Late goal gives Fulham a point

Philippe Christanval struck a late leveller to deny ten-man West Ham United a precious victory against a feisty Fulham side in this six-goal rollercoaster at the Boleyn Ground.

Little had gone right for West Ham on an afternoon that saw both James Collins and Carlos Tevez limp away inside the opening quarter-hour and Tomasz Radzinski put Fulham in front. But after the subsequently dismissed Bobby Zamora equalised and man-of-the-match Yossi Benayoun twice put Hammers ahead, there looked to be some light at the end of a dark New Year tunnel, only for Christanval to copy team-mate Brian McBride and force a second Fulham equaliser.

Following the morale-boosting victory over Brighton & Hove Albion in the FA Cup third round last weekend, the Hammers boss made three changes to his starting line-up for the visit of our west London rivals. With Anton Ferdinand ruled out after picking up a groin injury against the Seagulls, Collins made a timely return to the centre of defence after four weeks on the sidelines with a similar problem.

Elsewhere, new signing Nigel Quashie was handed a debut in place of Hayden Mulllins, while Nigel Reo-Coker returned to captain the side at the expense of young Mark Noble. Hammers made the brighter start and created the first opening of the game in the sixth minute, when a long ball forward from Benayoun was misjudged by Christanval, allowing Tevez to nip in, only for the Frenchman to haul him down on the edge of the penalty area.

The presence of a fellow defender alongside him ensured that Christanval only received a yellow card for the offence and, after Luis Boa Morte had struck the wall with the subsequent free-kick, it soon became clear that Hammers had come off worse from the original incident, as Tevez pulled up with a calf strain. To compound matters, Collins was clearly feeling some discomfort with the groin injury that has plagued him throughout this season, and when the pair were both substituted within a minute of each other before the quarter-hour mark was even up, it didn't appear that things could get much worse.

Sadly, they did. On 16 minutes, a deep corner from the right was headed down by Heidar Helguson into the six-yard box, where Radzinski was on hand to flick the ball between Benayoun and Roy Carroll on the line and put the visitors into the lead. However, having insisted before the match that fight and endeavour was the first requirement of any professional footballer, Curbishley got exactly that as Hammers rolled up their sleeves and fought back to grab an equaliser 12 minutes later.

A long kick forward was flicked on by Carlton Cole, and Zamora out-muscled Christanval before slipping the ball under Fulham keeper Jan Lastuvka from eight yards out to claim his first goal since September. With the momentum now in their favour, Hammers pushed forward in search of another goal, and came close twice again before the break, as first Cole burst clear only to be denied by Christanval, then Benayoun crossed for Boa Morte, who screwed his shot wide of the target.

As the two sides walked off for the interval, it was clear that a touch of inspiration was going to be needed in the second half, although no-one among the 34,997 crowd could have imagined quite how soon it would arrive after the restart. Following that uninspiring opening 45 minutes, Benayoun took just 13 seconds to conjure up a moment pure genius, when Zamora flicked the ball into his path, and the innovative Israeli floated an inch-perfect 18-yarder over the stranded Lastuvka and under the crossbar - almost a carbon copy of his strike against the Cottagers at Upton Park last season.

Fulham, however, levelled on the hour when Moritz Volz returned a half-cleared corner back into the Hammers' area, where McBride beat off the attention of his markers to powerfully head the ball past Carroll from eight yards out. The visitors' joy soon evaporated into the East End air, though, for within five minutes the tenacity of that man Benayoun saw West Ham restore their advantage.

This time, the impish Israeli buzzed his way between Carlos Bocanegra and Christanval on the edge of the penalty area and, after riding the sprawling Lastuvka's desperate lunge, he coolly restored the lead with a low, angled shot into the unguarded net. But having booked Christanval, Franck Queudrue, Liam Rosenoir and Nigel Reo-Coker in the first half, referee Graham Poll was still keeping himself occupied by cautioning Helguson for dissent and Zamora for upending Radzinski.

And when the Hammers striker then fouled Queudrue with a quarter of an hour remaining, his consequent second yellow card left the 10-man Hammers with their backs firmly against the wall. Poll must have been feeling the onset of writer's cramp as he took the card count to double figures via further cautions for Bocanegra, the lively Wayne Routledge and Cole but, after Benayoun cleared off the line and Carroll bravely blocked Christanval, wobbling West Ham's resistance finally gave way in controversial circumstances, two minutes into stoppage time.

And the Hammers were left fuming when substitute Vincenzo Montella sent another hopeful ball into the heart of the fragile home defence, whereupon Liam Rosenoir's header was nodded on by Volz who, having bundled into the now grounded Christian Dailly, allowed the unmarked Christanval to lash his last-gasp strike into the net to give Fulham a share of the points and leave the heartbroken Hammers with one point instead of three.