Anyone who might have doubted the credentials of Hugo Lloris after he shipped 6 goals at Manchester City 10 days ago were given a stark reminder of his ability at Craven Cottage, as the Frenchman ultimately piled more misery on a Fulham side that succumbed to a sixth consecutive loss.
A drab first half was dominated by the contest between four battling midfielders as newly in charge Rene Meulensteen deployed Giorgos Karagounis and Scott Parker in central midfield, and they took on Sandro and Etienne Capoue. These selections meant that neither team had a man in the middle that was capable of picking a pass that others wouldn’t see, and much of the first period was thus played horizontally with little incisive threat.
Nonetheless, Meulensteen’s presence in the Fulham hot seat inspired Fulham to a positive start, with reportedly want away striker Dimitar Berbatov going close with a flicked header and then failing to bring a through ball under control that would have put him in. On both occasions, however, Lloris was on hand to clean up, making the first of his 6 saves in a man of the match performance as he scored a match-high 8.2.
Both sides threatened much more when aiming to hit their opponents on the break, with neither able to break down stubborn banks of midfield and defence through crowded areas the middle, probing for an opening but lacking the personnel to carve out significant opportunities. Spurs’ best chance of the half came on the counter, with Defoe laying in Paulinho, who skipped past two defenders before firing over the bar. It is now 1 goal from 41 shots for the Brazilian since signing (5.9% conversion), 7 of which have seen clear-cut chances go begging; only Sergio Agüero (9) has missed more golden chances of all players in the Premier League this season.
At half time, under-pressure manager André Villas-Boas recognised the need for a change, replacing Capoue with Lewis Holtby. However, it was Fulham that broke the deadlock, when they pounced on some a wayward Michael Dawson pass which allowed Berbatov the time to play in Ashkan Dejagah who finished with aplomb past Lloris.Berbatov has now gone 18 hours and 12 minutes without a Premier League goal but his impact was significant here, with the second most touches of all Fulham players (60 – behind Riise’s 77), and 4 shots on top of his 2 key passes, which included that aforementioned assist.
Immediately, Spurs looked for a response. Nacer Chadli was introduced in place of Sandro and Villas-Boas suddenly had the two players he had earlier utilised in the ‘number 10′ role playing alongside each other in the double pivot. Holtby has barely been given a chance in a deeper lying role since joining Spurs, but he excelled there for Schalke and could certainly have a future there. However, even if Holtby looked good and moved the ball quickly and prettily in midfield, it looked like Fulham might shut up shop and hold onto their lead until two moments of brilliance saved Tottenham.
“When teams drop back against us, goals need to come from outside the box” Villas-Boas later said in his post-match press conference. It is hard to believe he has been preparing his side for such eventualities, but with 2 goals from outside the box here and now 4 in his side’s last 2 games, maybe he has done just that. Vlad Chiriches scored the first, with a controlled but powerful low volley from upwards of 30 yards after a corner was cleared, before than man Holtby won the game late on with a goal that Gareth Bale would have been proud of.
That remains a problem, however, for Spurs. Still, after Bale has long since departed, they are struggling for inspiration and do not have that player to play a killer pass or a striker to finish chances off consistently, and are relying on strikes from distance. Positives can be taken from this win, but there are certainly still issues to address, namely the fact that they did not musuter a single effort from inside the six yard box here.
For Fulham, meanwhile, Meulensteen mainta
Same old Spurs saved by strikes from range at Fulham
ined that he saw ‘enough positives’ here to convince him that Fulham could stay up. There were indeed good elements he can take from the game like the fact that but for an in-form Lloris his team may well have won the game. While hanging onto Berbatov in January will remain at the top of his priority list, reinforcement in other areas shouldn’t be to far down it.Published 05 Dec 2013, 14:58 IST