This was one of those games you just thought Fulham wouldn’t get anything out of. Outpassed and outplayed by a slick Spurs side that looked like they were starting to click again under Martin Jol, the home side found themselves 3-1 down after a brilliant solo goal from the impressive Gareth Bale just after the hour. That looked like game over, especially as Fulham’s solitary goal came against the run of play courtesy of a Clint Dempsey header.
But somehow Lawrie Sanchez’s side clawed themselves back into the contest. Tottenham fans could point with some justification to the fact that Fulham’s unlikely resurgence came only after Robbie Keane, who had partnered Dimitar Berbatov in a razor-sharp Spurs attack, was substituted with a quarter of the game left. The game still looked well beyond Fulham when the tireless Alexei Smertin, easily their best player, shot towards goal more in hope than expectation from the edge of the box. The goal owed much to fortune as a hefty deflection off Ricardo Roche, who threw himself in front of the ball, took it away from the helpless Paul Robinson.
Fulham drew belief from that but it was still a stretch to see them equalise. But level they did deep into added time. Chris Baird hurled a long throw deep into the Tottenham box and Diomansy Kamara showed breathtaking agility to produce an awesome overhead kick, sending the ball into the top corner and stealing the most precious of points.
Such an outcome seemed ludicrous only half an hour earlier. Tottenham had played some sublime football and the sad thing from a Fulham point of view was that much of it came through one of our former heroes in Steed Malbranque. The Frenchman, whose mesmorising running thrilled the Cottage crowds for six years before he fell out with Chris Coleman, scampered around the pitch with carefree abandon and wreaked havoc on the Fulham defence.
That’s not to say that Spurs didn’t have any help in establishing what seemed to be an impregnable advantage. Antti Niemi, returning from a wrist injury, made a horrid harsh 0f trying to claim Bale’s tenth-minute corner and defender Younes Kaboul had the simplest of tasks to stab home his first goal for Tottenham from close range.
The visitors were quickly in their stride and the goal only galvanised them. Fulham looked cumbersome in possession and alarmingly vulnerable at the back. The addition of Dejan Stefanovic, the Serbian veteran signed from Portsmouth on deadline day, had hardly helped to shore up a creaking defence, which was prized open again on 28 minutes. Berbatov raced gleefully onto Keane’s raking pass, leaving Stefanovic trailing in his wake, as he smashed home the second, making light of what appeared to be a tight angle.
Tottenham were rampant and will now rue not killing Fulham off. Jermaine Jenas was a little too greedy as he bore down on goal, electing to try and beat Niemi rather than rolling the ball across the box to Keane, who was completely free. It came as some shock when Fulham rallied just before the break. Dempsey rose majestically to head home a corner, but it still seemed like a mere blip for Jol’s side.
Spurs soon reestablished the first half pattern and Malbranque was unfortunate not to crown his fine performance with a goal when he hit the post with a fierce shot. The visitors did get their third when Bale brilliantly ran onto a clever backheel from Keane and sped into the penalty area. His assured finish was impressive, despite being unchallenged, but Tottenham’s joy turned to despair in the closing minutes.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Niemi; Baird, Konchesky, Stefanovic, Bocanegra; Smertin (John 79), Davis, Davies, Dempsey; Bouazza, Kamara. Subs (not used): Keller, Volz, Omozusi.
GOALS: Dempsey (42), Smertin (77), Kamara (90).
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (4-4-2): Robinson; Chimbonda, Bale, Rocha, Kaboul; Huddlestone, Jenas, Lee, Malbranque (Dawson 84); Keane (Defoe 68), Berbatov. Subs (not used): Cerny, Zokora, Taarabt.
GOALS: Kaboul (10), Berbatov (28), Bale (61).
REFEREE: Mike Riley (Yorkshire).