THE sight of West Ham players ly

ing flat out at the final whistle told its own story. The fresh scent of hope had been extinguished, replaced by the stale smell of desperation which clung to every claret and blue shirt. Graham Poll was the target of every ounce of West Ham venom for everything from finding five minutes of stoppage time to removing Bobby Zamora with a second flash of

a yellow card. But the answer to most of West Hams problems - as ever this season - lies so much closer to home. How can you expect to escape from trouble this deep when every ball into your box equates to a chance and, too often, a go

al? And how does anybody at Upton Park believe theres an escape strategy when confidence is in such short supply? Alan Curbishleys side are caught in a vicious circle of decline. No sooner do they seem on the brink of dragging themselves out than an undercurrent draws them back under. Everything was going for the Hammers. Comfortable even with 10 men for the last 15 minutes, they

were buoyed by the news Middlesbrough were handing out favours all round at The Valley, while Wigans sorry run put them within t

ouching distance. Yet even with the gods smiling, West Ham are still more likely to fold than stand up to be counted ... as the last knockings of this pulsating contest proved. Three of the added five minutes had ticked by when Fulham mustered one last thrust forward. It was always going to be enough. Christian Dailly was knocked sideways by an innocuous challenge from Moritz Volz as the ball pinballed around the area to fall to Phillipe Christanval, who beat Roy Carroll. Two minutes later, the whistle blew and Poll was treated to both barrels from Curbishley. I thought it was a clear foul and I was angry because Poll was looking straight at it, said the Hammers boss. We were hanging on for dear life in the last five minutes and then we get a

decision like that, a clear foul that wasnt given. Its the sort of thing that sucks the spirit out of you. Yes, theyd shown spirit in clawing their way to a lead thanks to Yossi Benayouns sublime finish and a pure gift to hand the Israeli a second. That, though, was undermined by the kind of bumbling defending which gave Fulham an opening every time they served a ball into the box. Fulhams first was a prime example. Wayne Routledges corner

was met by the unchallenged Heidar Helguson, who nodded down for Tomasz Radzinski to turn in off his shins. Zamora, on for the injured Carlos Tevez who departed within 12 minutes, proved it wasnt just his side who were flimsy at the back, brushing aside Christanval to slide home Carlton Coles flicked header. It proved to be the strikers last positive contribution as, come the second half, h

e was booked for a foul on Radzinski and then shown a red when he left Carlos Bocanegra crumpled on the touchline. By that time, Benayouns beautiful finish just 14 sec

onds into the second half, when he stroked the ball over keeper Jan Lastuvka, had been wiped out whe

n yet another cross dropped on to a Fulham head without the hint of a challenge, this time Brian McBride making the most of the generosity. Generosity cut both ways, however, and when Christanval and Bocanegra played After You, Claude on their own penalty spot, Benayoun stole in to clip home his second. A side with more conviction might have held out but this is West Ham were ta2020老版跑狗图93期 lking about and, as Curbishley is swiftly discovering, hope doesnt run too deep this side of the Thames. Every time a ball goes into the box or the opposition have a set-piece, they look as if theyll score from it, he conceded, This could have been a turning point. Instead a draw tastes like a defeat. And its a rancid taste, one West Ham will struggle to rinse from their mouths.