Fulham duo return to the Lane to inflict Tottenham's third successive defeat
PUBLISHED: 16:59 17 March 2013 | UPDATED: 17:02 17 March 2013
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Premier League: Tottenham 0 Fulham 1
Tottenham suffered their third successive defeat as Fulham boss Martin Jol and his matchwinner Dimitar Berbatov returned to White Hart Lane to beat their former club.
Spurs were on the crest of a wave at the start of March, having beaten Arsenal in the north London derby and then thumped Inter Milan 3-0 at home in the Europa League.
However, that has been followed by defeats against Liverpool, Inter and Fulham in the space of a week, undermining Tottenham’s challenge for a top-four spot and diminishing the seven-point lead that they established over the Gunners two weeks ago.
The Lilywhites’ loss in today’s London derby against Fulham leaves them four points ahead of fifth-placed Arsenal, who have a game in hand – and Chelsea were poised to leapfrog Spurs, leading 1-0 against West Ham as the final whistle went at White Hart Lane.
Andre Villas-Boas made five changes from the Spurs side that had been beaten 4-1 after extra-time in Milan on Thursday, with Hugo Lloris, Steven Caulker, Michael Dawson, Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Gareth Bale returning to the side.
However, the likes of Jan Vertonghen, Mousa Dembele, Scott Parker, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Emmanuel Adebayor all took to the field again, having played 120 minutes less than three days previously.
There was an interesting twist to the Spurs line-up as Assou-Ekotto started out of position on the left of midfield, being preferred to the former Fulham man Clint Dempsey.
On the other hand, Fulham had been inactive for two weeks since their 2-2 draw at Sunderland on March 3 – and the ex-Spurs boss Martin Jol named an unchanged side on his return to White Hart Lane, opting for his usual 4-2-3-1 system.
Aware that fatigue would become more of an issue as the game progressed, Tottenham started brightly and energetically, and Bale saw a header from Sigurdsson’s corner cleared off the line by Sascha Riether in the fifth minute.
That was a rare sight of goal for the hosts, and it took them another 17 minutes to muster another shot on goal. Even then there was a touch of fortune about the opening as a Fulham tackle rebounded into the path of Sigurdsson, who sliced wide from the edge of the box.
The defences were well on top and the general quality did not improve, with Bale hammering a 30-yard effort into the stands at one end and Steve Sidwell replying with a similarly audacious and wayward effort in the 41st minute.
There was concern for Bale before half-time as the Welshman fell awkwardly after being clipped by Giorgos Karagounis – and while he was grounded, Lloris spilled Dimitar Berbatov’s low cross but recovered to hook it away with his feet.
Bale recovered and Sigurdsson sent another strike high and wide from the edge of the box to wrap up a thoroughly dismal first period.
Villas-Boas responded with a half-time change, swapping Dawson for Clint Dempsey. Vertonghen moved into the centre of defence, while Assou-Ekotto dropped to left-back, allowing Dempsey to operate on the left flank.
There was a brief moment of encouragement for Tottenham as a good move to left to right ended with Bale firing a low 25-yard effort down Mark Schwarzer’s throat.
However, Fulham took the lead moments later in the 51st minute as Ashkan Dejagah freed the overlapping Riether, and his low cross from the right was finished off by Berbatov.
It could have been worse for Spurs. Sidwell’s 30-yard effort was awkward for Lloris, and Brede Hangeland – now free from Dawson’s attentions - then headed wide from a corner.
Villas-Boas introduced Jermain Defoe in place of Sigurdsson, with Bale moving to the right side of midfield – and Tom Carroll then replaced Dembele.
Tottenham went on to create a golden opportunity as Caulker got forward and cut the ball across the box to Defoe, whose first-time strike was saved by Schwarzer.
Carroll then beat two men and played a neat through ball to Bale, but Schwarzer got there first, and Adebayor sent a glancing header wide from Naughton’s cross.
Fulham had settled in to defend their lead, and Jol swapped Karagounis for Eyong Enoh in the midfield engine room.
The move paid dividends as Spurs struggled to find a way past the Cottagers – and the visitors nearly doubled their lead in the 85th minute as Bryan Ruiz crossed for Dejagah, who opted to head back across goal instead of testing Lloris, and Vertonghen cleared.
It nearly proved to be costly, because Tottenham almost grabbed an 89th-minute equaliser in a similar scenario to Fulham’s goal.
Dempsey released Bale down the right and his low cross found Defoe, but the striker’s powerful effort was brilliantly saved by Schwarzer to secure all three points for his side.