West Ham United continued their impressive climb up the Premier League table with a comprehensive 3-1 victory over Fulham at the Boleyn Ground on Saturday.
An opportunist strike from David Di Michele, a Mark Noble penalty and Carlton Cole's fifth straight match with a goal saw the Hammers leapfrog the Cottagers into eighth place in the standings. Former Paul Konchesky had levelled matters with a fine long-range strike shortly before half-time, but Gianfranco Zola's men were full value for their third win in their last four league matches.
The victory was all the more impressive when it is considered that Fulham arrived in east London on a ten-match unbeaten run and having conceded just six goals in their nine previous away league fixtures. The Hammers now make the long journey north for Saturday's FA Cup fourth round tie against League One Hartlepool United just two points behind seventh-placed Wigan Athletic and a possible place in next season's UEFA Europa League.
Manager Zola made just one change from the side that drew 2-2 at Newcastle United, taking the decision to leave Craig Bellamy out of his squad. Di Michele was handed a start after appearing as a late substitute at St James' Park. Fulham counterpart Roy Hodgson named three ex-United players in his starting eleven in Konchesky, John Pantsil and Bobby Zamora.
It took a little over six minutes for Di Michele to repay the faith shown in him by his fellow Italian. A patient passing move saw the ball switched from one side of the pitch to the other twice before Lucas Neill launched a left-foot cross into the danger zone. There, former Hammer Pantsil's attempt to chest-pass the ball back to goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer landed short and the alert forward nipped in to neatly convert his third goal for the club - all of which have been scored in the same Centenary Stand net.
Having gone ahead, the hosts looked much the more likely to add to their lead rather than relinquish it. However, that was notwithstanding a truly memorable goal from Konchesky. It was the left-back's first since his cross-shot flew over Liverpool's Pepe Reina in the 2006 FA Cup final, but there was nothing remotely fortunate about the England international's strike this time around. After picking up the ball just inside his own half, the 27-year-old strode forward 30 yards before launching a vicious, swerving shot that flew into Robert Green's top left-hand corner.
Aside from the two goals, there was very little action during the opening 45 minutes. Danny Murphy did superbly to deny Valon Behrami a shooting opportunity on 28 minutes, while the Fulham captain also saw a left-foot volley fly high into the Bobby Moore Stand early on. Di Michele also wasted two opportunities shortly before the break, launching a volley well over from Neill's cleverly lofted through ball before smashing a shot into the side-netting from Mark Noble's near-post free-kick.
The early part of second half followed much the same path of the first, with both sides probing without creating many clear-cut chances. Di Michele again looks the most likely scorer for West Ham and thought he had done just that on 50 minutes, only for his left-foot volley to be correctly ruled out for offside. Both sides then had a player booked - Davies for stopping Neill from taking a quick free-kick and Behrami for hauling back Dempsey - before Noble re-established the Hammers' advantage.
Carlton Cole, a willing frontrunner all afternoon, robbed a hesitant Konchesky 40 yards from goal before galloping into the penalty area and being felled by his former team-mate. Referee Phil Dowd chose only to issue a yellow card to the full-back, but Noble ensured the visitors would be punished by confidently sending Schwarzer the wrong way from the spot.
Hogdson sent on Norwegian striker Erik Nevland - a scorer against West Ham for Fulham's reserves in October - and Zoltan Gera in an attempt to level matters for a second time. The moves did not have the desired effect, however, as the hosts duly completed the scoring with a goal of real quality 14 minutes from time.
Jack Collison latched on to Dickson Etuhu's loose pass in midfield before setting Di Michele free down the inside-right channel. The on-loan Torino forward rolled an inch-perfect ball into the path of Cole, who expertly toe-ended it past Schwarzer to all but secure the three points.
With the game seemingly won, Zola sent on Julien Faubert, Hayden Mullins and - to the approval of the vast majority of the 31,818 supporters present - Kieron Dyer for his first Premier League appearance since facing Wigan Athletic at the Boleyn Ground on 25 August 2007. All in all, it was yet another hugely positive afternoon for the West Ham manager and his players.