It is safe to say that after a second five-goal rout in the space of as many days, Fulham’s second-season slump is over.
Without Aleksandar Mitrovic this season and heading into the final international break of the year, 12 league games had yielded just 10 goals and three victories this term for Fulham.
In the four games since, they have won three and scored a scarcely believable 16 goals, with three of those in a thrilling 4-3 defeat by Liverpool. On Sunday, after looking second best for the first 15 minutes, they were rampant against a shellshocked West Ham United, who were fragile in defence, loose with possession in midfield and barely visible in attack.
Fulham’s five goals – their second fistful this week after Nottingham Forest were defeated by the same score – were scored by five different players. Indeed, but for some rather prodigal finishing, they could have had five more, while Fulham’s goalkeeper, Bernd Leno, was merely an interested spectator.
“A brilliant performance,” said Marco Silva, the Fulham head coach. “Certainly better than against Nottingham. The players understood the plan so, so well: how we can punish them; how we can take the ball from them and control the game. It looks easy but it is not.
“Confidence builds confidence. It’s not been just the last four games. We’ve been improving every day. I love Mitro (Mitrovic), but he’s not here, so people have to stop talking about him. Last season, he scored 14 times not 40 and the goals were spread out too.”
Both teams enjoyed midweeks to savour: a day after Fulham felled Forest, West Ham overturned a deficit to win at Tottenham.
Irrespective of the horror to come, West Ham started brightly. With Jarrod Bowen fairly frisky in his lone striker role and Lucas Paqueta mostly engaged, they looked to seize the day. Alas for them the day slipped out of their grasp and they fell apart.
“We used up too much energy in midweek,” claimed David Moyes, the West Ham manager, who had lost his 238th Premier League game to share that unwanted record with Harry Redknapp. “We’ve had two difficult away games in four days and we’ve a return of three points, so that isn’t so bad. Fulham had a game on Wednesday and there was no reason why our game couldn’t have been on Wednesday too.”
With everything seemingly easing into place for West Ham, Fulham scored. Joao Palhinha crossed from the right and Raul Jimenez lost Nayef Aguerd before leaping above Aaron Cresswell to head past Lukasz Fabianski. The Mexican striker who had scored just one league goal before the resurgence, now had three in two games.
“That changed the game,” sighed Moyes. “It was a terrible goal. We just didn’t step up. Jimenez headed in from eight yards. He should have been 18 yards out.”
West Ham, brittle as a Christmas tree bauble and reportedly beset by a sickness bug going through the squad, were three down before the break. Aguerd’s dreadful hack out fell to a white shirt and Alex Iwobi’s shot was palmed out to Andreas Pereira who crossed low. Aguerd missed it, Kurt Zouma missed it and Iwobi miskicked completely, but it fell to Willian who gleefully slotted home.
Then, Cresswell deflected an Iwobi effort for a corner. Pereira slung it over and Tosin Adarabioyo outjumped Zouma to head in his first goal since Sep 2022 off Vladimir Coufal.
Moyes re-shuffled his defence, undoing both his enforced changes from the Tottenham game and moving to a back three-cum-five. Yet with Bowen isolated, Paqueta waning and James Ward-Prowse a peripheral figure, an unlikely comeback never threatened to take flight.
Fulham continued to swarm forwards. Tom Cairney, making his 300th Fulham appearance, launched a long ball forwards. On the corner of the penalty area, with one magnificent touch Harry Wilson – on for the hobbling Willian - brought the ball down. As defenders backed off, with two more touches he cut in, before launching a spectacular curler past the incandescent Fabianski.
As ‘Moyes Out trended on social media., Fulham scored five for the second time in five days. The game had slipped into added time when, Harrison Reed’s long ball forwards eluded the missing-in-inaction West Ham defence. Wilson ran through alone and unselfishly squared for Carlos Vinicius to tap in his first league goal since the season’s opening day.
For West Ham, the game couldn’t end soon enough. Fulham could have stayed out there all afternoon.