Tottenham 0-1 Fulham: Berbatov returns to haunt Lilywhites
Dimitar Berbatov scored for Fulham against his former side to give former Spurs boss Martin Jol a memorable 1-0 win at White Hart Lane.
Although Spurs dominated possession throughout the game, their end product was sorely lacking, as they have now lost their third game in a span of eight days and missed out on an opportunity to consolidate their position in third place.
Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas made several changes from the team that had progressed to the quarter-finals of the Europa League in Milan.
Jan Vertonghen filled in at left-back, with the English trio of Michael Dawson, Stephen Caulker and Kyle Naughton joining the Belgian in defence. Benoit-Assou Ekotto was pushed further up-field to partner Gylfi Sigurdsson, Gareth Bale, Scott Parker and Moussa Dembele in a five-man midfield. Emmanuel Adebayor played on his own up front.
For Fulham, it was the first-choice back line of Sascha Riether, John Arne Riise, Brede Hangeland and Philippe Senderos who played ahead of Mark Schwarzer. Veterans Steve Sidwell and Giorgios Karagounis formed the core of the Cottagers’ midfield as Damien Duff and Ashkan Dejagah were fielded out wide. Bryan Ruiz partnered former Spurs man Dimitar Berbatov up front.
A generous succession of throw-ins and fouls aside, both teams offered little to offer in terms of attacking intent in the first 25 minutes.
Gareth Bale blazed over the bar from 20 yards out in the second minute, and Scott Parker tried to fire goalwards from a tight angle just outside the Fulham box on the left, with those efforts sandwiched between John Arne Riise’s effort from the right. Michael Dawson saw away the Norway international’s delivery.
That and Ashkan Dejagah’s booking on Moussa Dembele in the opening half of the first half aside, the game was rather quiet. Not for a lack of activity, but because both defences looked very adept at dealing with their attacking counterparts.
As the game crossed the half-hour mark, the game did begin to open up further. Dimitar Berbatov, who was being booed every time he touched the ball, was twisting and turning like a snipe whenever he was in possession as he tried to set free his team mates. But his lackadaisical nature, which saw him fall down the pecking order at Manchester United, saw him give the ball away under no pressure at all.
At the other end, Philippe Senderos tussled with Emmanuel Adebayor, and it was the Swiss who beat the former Arsenal man as the duo challenged for Jan Vertonghen’s incoming cross aimed at the far post.
Bale and Naughton were clicking well out wide, but the away defence held firm to stymie the talented Welshman and his English colleague’s raids forward.
As the game entered its last ten minutes, Fulham tried to pierce the Spurs defence with a series of flighted balls, gifting the Spurs possession in one of the most crucial periods of the match. Adebayor ran, Hangeland intercepted. Bale raided forward, Sascha Riether blotted him out.
A lovely move between the former Bundesliga duo Reither and Dejagah played in the Iran international, but his first touch let him down inside the Spurs box. Although warbles of ‘Come on you Spurs’ were echoing around the stadium, Andre Villas-Boas’ men were in no way comfortable.
With the game entering its final first-half minutes, the camera panned to a section of Spurs fan sitting in the audience, their faces aghast with the abject performances of their team. With good reason: it was Fulham who had shown more endeavour in the first half.
That sentiment would soon change to worry: Bale went down two minutes from time, all on his own and clutching his Achilles’ heel. After a minute of treatment on the pitch, the winger limped off gingerly but was back on the pitch almost immediately.
Gylfi Sigurdsson speared a drive in the direction of Mark Schwarzer’s goal, but his shot was screwed horribly wide. That effort was really an indication of how poor the first half had been.
Referee Mike Jones blew the whistle to signal the end of a stodgy first half display at the Lane. Only one effort from either side had been directed on target and Reither’s clearance off the line had put paid to Bale’s header off Sigurdsson’s corner in the sixth minute.
Andre Villas-Boas brought on Clint Dempsey for Michael Dawson to face his old club at half time. Reports about the skipper having a hamstring problem were filtering in.
Backed by the raucous cheers of their fans, Spurs tried to pick holes in the away defence. Gareth Bale sped away in the 50th minute, and it required a cul-de-sac by the Fulham defenders to keep him quiet.
He then fired an effort towards the Fulham goal, but he was off balance and the effort from him was easily gathered up by Schwarzer.
Hugo Lloris at the other end would have no opportunity to deny Berbatov though.
Schwarzer picked out Dejagah on the left and he spotted Riether on the overlap. The German scorched forward on the right flank and delivered a pin-point grounded cross to the feet of Berbatov, who sidefooted home to open the scoring against his old club.
While Fulham fans celebrated and Spurs fans looked down in dejection and frustration, Berbatov’s joy was diminished as he did not cheer his goal against his former side.
Hangeland was then presented with a golden opportunity to double his side’s lead, but the giant Norwegian let the set-piece chance go begging and could only shake his head ruefully in the wake of his botched attempt.
On the sidelines, Spurs were preparing their second change of the game. Jermain Defoe was stripped down and ready to come on. He replaced Sigurdsson. Despite his introduction, Tottenham appeared to be all over the place. The Fulham defence seemed untroubled by the machinations of the Lilywhite midfield.
Bale was oddly quiet throughout the game, possibly as a result of his creaky Achilles. His left-wing cross in the 65th minute was headed over by Dempsey.
A Fulham corner in the 67th minute was headed over by Sidwell after Senderos did well to bring it into the midfielder’s path. That attempt by the Cottagers to double their lead was one of a few isolated attempts that were now coming far and few between as they tried to retreat into a defensive shell.
With a little more than 20 minutes remaining, Tom Carroll was flung on for Dembele in an attempt to wrest back parity. Spurs players were now pinging in cross-field balls to the striking trio of Adebayor, Defoe and Carroll, but the crosses that came in were far from accurate.
Fulham boss Martin Jol then made a change, replacing Greek midfielder Giorgios Karagounis with January signing Eyong Enoh in the 78th minute as he attempted to introduce some defensive freshness to help his side keep Spurs at bay.
Spurs raided forward with increasing frequency, but Fulham avoided conceding a goal simply by keeping the ball among their players. Long punts forward by Schwarzer were becoming increasingly common as he tried to relieve pressure, giving the ball back to Spurs in the process.
With five minutes of regulation time left, Vertonghen began to join his attacking team mates in search of an equaliser. In a rare counter attack forward, Bryan Ruiz released Dejagah, who missed a glorious opportunity to seal the game.
Despite Spurs remaining camped just outside Spurs’ 18-yard-box, the Fulham rearguard remained solid, Senderos and Hangeland doing well to marshall Defoe and Adebayor. An incoming corner in the 88th minute was headed clear by Hangeland.
Defoe then fired goalwards from two yards after Gareth Bale squared to him after sprinting clear of the Fulham defence, but Schwarzer defied his 40 years of age to claw the ball away from goal with a magnificent save at full stretch.
Although regulation time was now up, the game was far from over as four minutes of stoppage time were signalled.
At the other end, Berbatov tried to pick out Dejagah as Spurs left themselves increasingly open, but a misunderstanding saw another chance for the Craven Cottage side go unanswered. Jol now brought on Urby Emanuelson in an attempt to close down the game, taking off the hard-working Ruiz.
He was to get twenty seconds on the pitch as the whistle blew in response to unabated cheers from the away end. Spurs wonderful run, however, is now surely over as they have now lost three consecutive games.
Tottenham Hotspur 0-1 Fulham (Berbatov 52′)
Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris; Naughton, Caulker, Dawson (Dempsey 46′), Vertonghen; Parker, Dembele (Carroll 77′), Sigurdsson (Defoe 67′), Assou-Ekotto, Bale; Adebayor
Subs Not Used: Friedel, Walker, Holtby, Livermore
Fulham: Schwarzer; Riether, Senderos, Hangeland, Riise; Karagounis (Enoh 78′), Sidwell, Dejagah, Duff; Ruiz (Emanuelson 90′+3), Berbatov
Subs Not Used: Etheridge, Hughes, Richardson, Rodallega, Petric
Tottenham Hotspur: Shots (0n goal): 15 (3), Fouls: 10, Corner Kicks: 5, Offsides: 1, Yellow Cards:1, Red Cards: 0, Saves: 1
Fulham: Shots (0n goal): 7 (2), Fouls: 8, Corner Kicks: 5, Offsides: 4, Yellow Cards: 1, Red Cards: 0, Saves: 3
Possession: Tottenham Hotspur 59% – 41% Fulham
Swansea City vs. Tottenham Hotspur, 30/03/2013, Liberty Stadium, Barclays Premier League
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