Carlton Cole scored his first ever Premier League double as West Ham eased the pressure on boss Avram Grant with a crucial 3-1 win at Fulham today. Grant has been edging closer to the sack in recent weeks as West Ham struggled to climb off the bottom of the Premier League, but the former Chelsea manager earned a stay of execution thanks to Cole's heroics.
The England striker, recalled as one of Grant's five changes for the crunch clash, cancelled out an early goal from Fulham defender Aaron Hughes and then struck again with the decisive third goal after Frederic Piquionne put the Hammers in front.
Cole's double, which sealed the Hammers' first win in four league games - and their first away success in 27 attempts, moved Grant's team off the bottom of the table and level on points with fourth bottom Fulham. With West Ham's co-owners David Sullivan and David Gold in attendance at Craven Cottage, defeat could have spelled the end for Grant. Instead it is Fulham boss Mark Hughes who will start to feel the heat as his struggling side's under-whelming run continues.
Grant said: "It was a good game for us - we came back which was amazing. Fulham had a lot of possession and they were controlling it without creating chances. I didn't like the goal we conceded but we scored three and we could have scored more so I'm happy. The players are happy with the win and they want to taste it again."
Grant took a gamble by handing Freddie Sears his first Premier League start since March 2009 after recalling the young striker from a loan spell at Championship club Scunthorpe but was amply rewarded as he picked up man of the match honours. West Ham made the short trip across London knowing only one club in Premier League history has avoided relegation having been bottom at the start of Boxing Day.
Cole had two chances in the early stages as he headed wide and dragged an effort off-target from a tight angle. But it was Fulham who took the lead in the 11th minute as West Ham failed to clear a corner, allowing Simon Davies to cross for the unmarked Hughes to head home his first goal for more than six years. Andy Johnson tested Green from distance two minutes later and should have doubled Fulham's lead in the 18th minute when he failed to connect properly with Davies' cross from six yards.
Hammers provide Christmas miracle
After that lacklustre opening, West Ham snatched a lifeline as Cole equalised against the run of play in the 37th minute. Sears' cross was intercepted by Dickson Etuhu but the midfielder could only send the ball straight to Cole, who stretched to shoot past Mark Schwarzer from six yards. Suddenly West Ham were playing with more verve and Piquionne put the visitors ahead in stoppage time when he arrived completely unmarked to volley in Scott Parker's cross.
Hughes withdrew Clint Dempsey and Etuhu for Damien Duff and Eddie Johnson a minute later, a change greeted with chants of "you don't know what you're doing" from Fulham fans. Brede Hangeland played a defence-splitting pass to Johnson but West Ham goalkeeper Rob Green was off his line in a flash to block the forward's finish.
Any Fulham thoughts of a comeback were ended in the 73rd minute when Hughes tried to cut out a long ball forward but only succeeded in nodding straight to Cole, who fired a superb angled drive past Schwarzer.