Fulham’s second stirring comeback of the season snatched top spot away from Spurs as Glenn Hoddle’s side let a 2-0 lead slip in the closing stages of an absorbing London derby in Shepherd’s Bush.
Jean Tigana’s battlers had already roared back from two goals down to draw at Middlesbrough, but this comeback was far more impactful after Junichi Inamoto’s strike and a hotly-contested Steed Malbranque penalty kick were followed by Sylvian Legwinski’s stoppage-time winner to reward the Whites for their never-say-die attitude. Tottenham’s unbeaten record was torn to shreds as were any hopes of leapfrogging Arsenal to reach the Premiership summit.
Hoddle’s new £7m striker Robbie Keane kicked his heels on the bench as Les Ferdinand and Teddy Sheringham continued up front, but that initially appeared to be the right decision as Spurs caused the Cottagers all sorts of problems from the off. Ferdinand shot wide in the very first minute before being thwarted by a crucial intervention from Alain Goma, but the opening goal was coming. Dean Richards provided it from a set-piece, rising above Zat Knight to head in Milenko Acimovic’s corner.
Fulham, who struggled to make any impact after Louis Saha limped off injured, were all at sea and Legwinski headed awkwardly over his own crossbar after a disastrous defensive mix-up before Goma bailed out Edwin van der Sar after the goalkeeper had got no power behind a punch. More horrendous defending presented Ferdinand with possession just outside the penalty area and the former Loftus Road favourite fed Matthew Etherington on the left wing. His low cross was swept home by Sheringham from ten yards to delight of the Spurs fans, who chorused ‘We are top of the league!’
Tigana sent on Malbranque at half time but his introduction couldn’t stem the tide of Tottenham attacks. Acimovic almost embarrassed van der Sar with a 60-yard lob before seeing a header rightly ruled out for offside. Gradually, Fulham – inspired by Davis’ insatiable appetite for a battle – gained a foothold in midfield. Malbranque found the space to become increasingly influential, first starting a move that saw Davis draw the save of the evening from Kasey Keller, with the American at full stretch to turn away a powerful strike.
That seemed to inspire the Whites. Sava sent a header straight down Keller’s throat and Barry Hayles probably should have done better than head wide from in front of goal. Fulham found a route back into the contest midway through the second period, when Davis had a shot blocked by Chris Perry – only for Inamoto to fire in his fifth goal in three games from the rebound. Steve Finnan rattled the crossbar with a venomous drive before play was halted after a sickening clash between Perry and Wome.
The contrast between the approaches of the two benches was shown with their substitutions. Hoddle replaced the fading Acimovic with Christian Ziege to protect Spurs’ lead, whilst Tigana introduced midfielder John Collins for full-back Pierre Wome. Fulham’s ambition was rewarded, controversially, when referee Rob Styles was persuaded to award a penalty by his assistant after Anthony Gardner hauled down Hayles in the box. Malbranque kept his cool to convert the penalty – and the Fulham faithful roared their side forward.
It looked like they would have to settle for a point as Keller made superb saves to deny Finnan and Malbranque. But, after Finnan had won the ball back from Thatcher, Legwinski worked a one-two with Sava and surged away from a tiring Spurs defence before shooting past Keller to complete an incredible fightback.
FULHAM (4-4-2): van der Sar; Finnan, Wome (Collins 81), Knight, Goma; Davis, Legwinski, Inamoto, Boa Morte (Malbranque 45); Saha (Hayles 21), Sava. Subs (not used): Taylor, Melville.
GOALS: Inamoto (68), Malbranque (pen 84), Legwinski (90).
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (3-5-2): Keller; Bunjevcevic, Perry (Doherty 80), Richards; Davies, Etherington (Iversen 84), Gardner, Acimovic (Ziege 73), Thatcher; Ferdinand, Sheringham. Subs (not used): Hirschfeld, Keane.
GOALS: Richards (36), Sheringham (44).
REFEREE: Mark Halsey (Lancashire).