Fulham 1 West Ham United 2: Zola lets Cole play out after 'perfect response'
They love their strikers at West Ham but attackers past and present have caused nothing but trouble recently.
Carlos Tevez, long gone to Manchester United, could yet cost the club a fortune in compensation; Carlton Cole was stopped by police in the early hours on Wednesday and arrested on suspicion of drink-driving; Dean Ashton and Craig Bellamy spend most of the time in the treatment room.
There was even the danger at Craven Cottage on Saturday that another former frontman, Bobby Zamora, would be out to remind his old team of his prowess following a stunning goal against Bolton in their previous home match.
Well, if West Ham deserved a break they got it as Zamora reverted to type, missing a hat-trick of chances while young Cole put his alleged midweek misdemeanours behind him to score the first goal and give a decent all-round display. There was even a late cameo, albeit with two missed chances, from Bellamy as he came off the bench late in the game.
Cole tapped home the opening goal after 43 minutes following excellent work down the right by Matthew Etherington, with the winger adding a second in first-half stoppage time when he beat the advancing goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer to steer in Mark Noble's through ball. Suddenly West Ham, like their hosts beaten in the Carling Cup by a Championship side earlier in the week, were two goals to the good after Fulham had dominated the play.
It got better as another striker aided their cause, Andrew Johnson getting himself sent off for a second bookable offence just before the referee Andre Marriner blew for the interval. To their great credit, Fulham responded well in the second half and pulled a goal back when Lucas Neill handled a Zoltan Gera header inside the area and Danny Murphy scored from the spot. But West Ham hung on to make it two wins from two in the competition that matters the most for their new manager Gianfranco Zola.
The Italian, who helped a young John Terry clean up his act during his days at Chelsea, was keen to hail Cole's reaction. "It was fantastic. It was the perfect way to respond," Zola said. "He scored a goal, he helped the team so much. Because of that I've allowed him to go out tonight. Tonight he can go out if he plays like that. Everybody makes mistakes and that's what I told him."
Cole was contrite to a fault, saying: "It hasn't been the best of weeks but I will take my punishment. You can't do things like this and be a top player. I've learnt my lesson – I won't make a mistake like this again. I hadn't been out for so long and the one time I do go out I get caught for it, so the past has come back to bite me on the arse."
The Fulham manager, Roy Hodgson, doubtless felt some pain in a similar area, for his players deserved a point after being the better side for much of the game. He was philosophical as ever, though. "We have all been in the game a long time and we know that if you win two games you are world-beaters and you're going to finish in the top four, you lose two and you are useless and you are going to get relegated."
The truth, as always, is probably somewhere in between.
Goals: Cole (43) 0-1; Etherington (45) 0-2; Murphy pen (59) 1-2.
Fulham (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky; Davies, Bullard, Murphy, Gera; Zamora, Johnson. Substitutes not used: Zuberbühler (gk), Seol, Nevland, Dempsey, Andreasen, Kallio, Baird.
West Ham United (4-4-2): Green; Faubert, Neill, Upson, Ilunga; Behrami, Parker (Boa Morte 90), Noble, Etherington (Mullins, 80); Cole, Di Michele (Bellamy 74). Substitutes not used: Lastuvka (gk) Lopez, Davenport, Sears.
Referee: A Marriner (West Midlands).
Booked: Fulham Johnson, Konchesky, Murphy, Hangeland; West Ham United Parker.
Sent off: Johnson (45).
Man of the match: Etherington.