Managers may change, owners come and go, but the ability to infuse what ought to be a comfortable home win with farcical, stomach-turning drama remains quintessentially West Ham.
Deservedly leading through Carlton Cole’s 16th-minute header and with a man advantage thanks to the rashness of Fulham’s Kagisho Dikgacoi, the home side contrived a second-half performance which lurched from ineptitude to ill discipline and finally ended with the unlikeliest of injury-time redemptions.
Even after Junior Stanislas’ shot two minutes into added time had clipped the foot of Aaron Hughes and wrongfooted Mark Schwarzer cruelly for the equaliser, West Ham keeper Robert Green did his best to give away the precious point again by striking a clearance straight at Fulham substitute Eddie Johnson.
The American panicked and screwed his shot wide, otherwise West Ham’s strange afternoon would have been complete. As it was, their lucky escape cannot hide the ever-increasing brittleness of their belief, nor the boos which greeted the final whistle.
Their honest manager, Gianfranco Zola, admitted as much. He said: ‘It looked too easy in the first half. We were passing the ball fantastically, getting chances but not scoring. What was poor was that, when we conceded the equaliser, the whole team lost faith.
Getting stuck in: Parker (right) challenges Fulham scorer Gera
‘That’s the kind of thing I hate. Today Arsenal were losing twice and won 6-2 in the end. I’m going to be working on that attitude, you can be sure of that.
‘This will make everybody more aware and more responsible. It was a very important match for me, a key moment in the season.
‘I’ve got a lot of things to work on. It was very clear and I will be working on them.’
So flustered were the home side by the incident in which Dikgacoi was sent off that they lost all semblance of a pattern. The man most affected was Scott Parker, who had been brilliant for 40 minutes until Dikgacoi, the South African signed from Golden Arrows, used his elbow to upset the elegant midfielder.
Parker was booked for his reaction, Dikgacoi eventually sent off, yet it was the West Ham player who lost his way.
Parker’s prompting had eased the home side into a position of comfort, although the slackness of Fulham’s marking when Cole was given a free header was wholly responsible for their lead. Five minutes of Fulham chaos gave way to 45 minutes of watertight organisation instilled by their manager, the arch pragmatist Roy Hodgson.
The dynamic Diomansy Kamara was hauled down by Matthew Upson for a penalty coolly converted by Danny Murphy before the erratic Green lost his bearings at a corner and allowed Zoltan Gera to volley home with ease. Hodgson didn’t know whether to laugh or cry afterwards. He said: ‘Our player was sent off for violent conduct.
'I come from a generation where violent conduct was violent. When two players go head to head I don’t consider that violent. Having said that, it was a display of grit and great character.’