The redtops and the pundits might reduce the game to a simple analysis of a horrible blunder from poor old Heurelho Gomes but the best part of our impressive ending of Tottenham’s unbeaten run was the manner of our victory. It was deserved – the first goal coming after a lively start that belied Spurs recent good form – and the second after a period of pressure that had hinted at more to come.
Of course, Fulham being Fulham we couldn’t do things the easy way and allowed David Bentley the time and space to pick out substitute Frazier Campbell on the left edge of the box to fire home his first Premier League goal but to say we hung on would demean the effort and industry that fizzed through our midfield.
Ironically enough for such a vibrant performance, our best player was a centre back. There are fears that Brede Hangeland might be a target for the top four if he continues to turn in performances like this – that’s just how immense he was. We’ve known he was good in the air but during the fiercest heat of the battle, in the closing minutes of added time with Tottenham’s four forwards looking for a flick on, he outjumped Roman Pavlyuchenko not once but twice to repel the ball for the danger area. It wasn’t just sheer athleticism that stood out because for a tall, lumbering figure Hangeland reads the game so well. How else can you explain the way he dashed to the near post and threw himself in the way of Aaron Lennon’s cross – which surely would have been tapped in by Pavlyunchenko – after the tricky winger had burst in the penalty area.
Hangeland’s fellow centre back Aaron Hughes was brilliant again: in his own, understated way. The timely interceptions and calm distribution from the back are now becoming something of a hallmark for a man who was vilified for so much of our lacklustre defending last season. He, too, wasn’t afraid to put his body on the line – getting a crucial block in on a Jenas shot that might have been troubling Mark Schwarzer, who was largely untested until Campbell’s cool finish set up a nervy last ten minutes.
If this summary gives you the idea that this was a fiesty rearguard action, think again. Fulham were confident enough to take the game to Spurs from the off. Andy Johnson, chomping at the bit now having found his feet at his new club, scampered past Jonathan Woodgate, who was run ragged all afternoon, and pulled the back for Danny Murphy only for the former Spurs midfielder to mishit his shot. Clint Dempsey, in from the start for Zoltan Gera this time, certainly made up for that a minute later – his fierce rising drive was heading for the top right hand corner before Gomes turned it round the post at full stretch.
With Bullard and Murphy pulling the strings in midfield, Tottenham had little to add to their pretty passing patterns. When they tried a more direct approach, Huddlestone’s raking through ball travelled fully fifty yards to find Darren Bent but his hurried shot dribbled through to Schwarzer. Bent had reason to be thankful that Fabio Capello was at Upton Park rather than the Cottage and, therefore, didn’t witness his listless performance before selecting his squad for the forthcoming friendly against Germany.
It would be churlish to try and suggest the Gomes error was not spectacular. There seemed little danger when Simon Davies cut in from the left and drifted a speculative cross towards the near post. The ball took a slight deflection off Woodgate as he stooped to try and head clear but that couldn’t excuse the comical manner in which Gomes fumbled the ball into the net. The Hammersmith End choir was in full voice acclaiming their pantomine hero for the remainder of the game and the poor Brazilian must have wished he didn’t have another hour to keep goal.
The second half followed a similar pattern to the first despite Redknapp withdrawing the ineffectual Luka Modric and Huddlestone for Pavlyuchenko and Lennon in favour of a more aggressive 4-4-2 at half-time. Fulham dictated the play, with Dempsey full of hungry running and lovely skills down the right, and might have been out of sight long before the second goal arrived. King was fortunate not to give away a penalty when he handled after miskicking in the area and Davies had a shot smartly saved by Gomes.
Gomes was hardly inspiring confidence in his defence and the jitters seemed to be spreading. Davies outjumped Woodgate to reach Konchesky’s corner and headed the rebound into the six-yard box where Johnson swivelled and drove a left-footed shot through the hapless Brazilian’s goals for 2-0. He looked deliriously happy as he sprinted away to celebrate and, even allowing for Campbell’s late strike, we could have been out of sight by the end.
Bobby Zamora, who ran his socks off all day and produced a performance of the highest quality to frighten the life out of Woodgate and King, should have headed in a third after a dreadful mistake by King and Gomes produced a brilliant save to deny Bullard his first league goal of the season from a powerful free-kick.
Just a few more words on Zamora and Johnson. Bobby might have his critics but this was the kind of performance he can produce. Reminiscent of the manner in which he terrorised the Arsenal defence earlier in the season, he was a battering ram, a willing runner who won more than his fair share in the air and, with the clock ticking down, teased his former team-mates with his fancy footwork.
Up to eighth in the table now. What a win!
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Konchesky, Hangeland, Hughes; Bullard (Andreasen 90), Murphy, Dempsey (Gera 88), Davies; Zamora, Johnson. Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Baird, Gray, Kallio, Nevland.
GOALS: Davies 33, Johnson 70.
TOTTENHAM (4-5-1): Gomes; Corluka, Bale, King, Woodgate; Huddlestone (Pavlyuchenko 45), Jenas, Zokora, Modric (Lennon 45), Bentley; Bent (Campbell 71). Subs (not used): Sanchez, Hutton, Dawson, Assou-Ekotto.
GOAL: Campbell 81.
REFEREE: Alan Wiley (Staffordshire).