Fulham Steady, Tottenham Unready
Fulham made the short trek to North London today to face the Tottenham side who had demolished them 0-3 earlier in the season. There was little hope that the Southwest London side could get anything from the return fixture. Spurs were at home, in the top four, and their best player – Gareth Bale – did not participate in their midweek Europa League tie. Add to that the fact that Fulham have been a woeful eyesore on the road this season, and the match promised to be the Tottenham walkover that most pundits, including the South Texan writing this report, predicted.
But funny things happen on the way to the final whistle, and many of them occurred at White Hart Lane today. In the first half, Fulham displayed the football that has driven so many of their supporters nuts this season. Each possession featured multiple sideways and backwards passing until, eventually, the ball was surrendered to the team in white. It’s hard to moan about these losses of possession. If your [apparent] game plan is to get from your penalty area to the opponent’s penalty area in no fewer than 27 passes, chances are at least one will go awry. And so it was that Steve Sidwell took Fulham’s first shot in the 41st minute, and arced it a good 40 yards above the crossbar.
While Fulham’s “attack” was sputtering along going nowhere, their defense looked solid almost from the start. Spurs decided to rest Defoe and Lennon – who had niggling injuries – and persist with Adebayor up front despite season-long indifferent form. Bale looked a bit the worse for wear after a challenge, and Assou-Ekotto looked more than out of place in midfield. Dembélé was excellent, but the pieces that made up the Spurs XI didn’t seem to fit. Much of this was down to the consistency of Fulham’s defense. After twice conceding possession in dangerous positions within the first 70 seconds – Karagounis and Riise the culprits – Fulham’s back four settled down well, and were mightily assisted by Karagounis and Sidwell.
It didn’t take the White Hart Lane faithful long to express their frustration. EVERY Spurs pass that went sideways or backwards was greeted by growls of disapproval. I have to wonder how they’d like watching Fulham every week. They’d all be hoarse inside 30 minutes.
The second half looked like more of the same until the always-dangerous Ashkan Dejagah won possession in his own half, managed to slip past Dembélé and then feed Sascha Riether wide on the right. From deep midfield, Dimitar Berbatov streaked upfield with pace I didn’t know he possessed. Cross, calm conversion, and 0-1. Our 3rd shot in the match was our 1st shot on goal and a goal – all in minute 52. Not too shabby. For the next 20 or so minutes, Fulham dominated the pitch. Far from being gored into fighting back, Tottenham had their hands full keeping Fulham from a second. Hangeland, playing on the left wing [!] won a corner and then was presented with a clear header with half the goal to aim at. Somehow, he put it wide, and increased the acid content in my stomach exponentially.
How much were Fulham in charge? Clint Dempsey, who was subbed on at half time – first affected the play guarding Senderos in a succession of Fulham corners about 15 minutes later. Adebayor, despite working very hard, was mastered all day by his man-marker Philippe Senderos. Riether and Riise were tidy on the wings and Hangeland took care of everything else from his goal line to the center circle.
Tottenham did make some inroads, most especially when Jermain Defoe came on after the hour mark, but one brilliant Mark Schwarzer save aside, everything Defoe, Dempsey, Adebayor, and Bale threw at Fulham was meat and drink for an extremely well-organized and disciplined defense. I’ve seen Spurs play many times this season, and I’ve never seen them create so few clear chances.
Do I have quibbles about today’s performance? Of course. It is beginning to appear as if Karagounis actually came to us from the Royal Shakespeare Company. I haven’t witnessed such serial anguish since I saw King Lear. But mostly, I think there’s some kudos to pass along. Dejagah, who can be forgiven for not getting Fulham’s second late in the match, was a massive pain in the ass for everyone in white today. Riether was excellent. Duff did a fine job – especially in defense – and Schwarzer’s late save from Defoe was amazing when you consider how little he had been called upon to do.
HatterDon’s Man of the Match is Philippe Senderos. Part of this award is in recognition of dozens of cool and efficient decisions he made in his own penalty area in pressure situations. Part is in recognition of him marking Adebayor out of the match. And, of course, part is to piss off the huge cohort of Senderos haters who, each week, have less and less reason to despise him so.
Great result today and, given today’s other outcomes, we just might be clean and clear. Well done the lads and, if nobody gets hurt during the international break, it might be fun against QPR in a fortnight’s time.