What a difference a year makes. Last season at Craven Cottage, with Tottenham moving steadily up the table under Harry Redknapp, Heurelho Gomes fumbled a Simon Davies cross-cum-shot into his own goal to gift Fulham a dream start to the London derby. The Brazilian was thought to be on borrowed time at White Hart Lane as a string of fine saves failed to erase the memory of some costly errors. When Spurs came to the banks of the Thames today, though, Gomes was probably their most improved player and the goalkeeper, now number two in Dunga’s national squad, denied the home side as Tottenham clung on for a point.
The Spurs goalkeeper had to be on his guard from the first whistle. Damien Duff tested him from long range with a fierce shot that Gomes did well to get behind, but he made even smarter saves from an instinctive Zoltan Gera backheel at the near post and then excelled himself to get fingertips to a rising drive from Danny Murphy that looked to be heading towards the top corner.
Harry Redknapp had surprisingly relegated Jermain Defoe to the substitutes bench, preferring Peter Crouch and Robbie Keane up front. With the former in the side, there’s always a tendency to hit the long, aerial ball and Spurs fell into that trap a little too often this afternoon. Crouch was kept quiet by the alert Brede Hangeland and Aaron Hughes and when the England striker, who turned down a move to Fulham in the summer, did find the net he discovered that his clever curler from outside the box had been disallowed by referee Steve Bennett, who had already blown for a foul on Jermaine Jenas.
Fulham played their usual pretty passing football but Bobby Zamora, always a willing runner, was a little isolated up front. The former Tottenham striker battled hard against Michael Dawson and Sebastien Bassong but received little support from Bennett, who seemed determined not to take anyone’s name a day after Christmas, and Fulham lacked the ruthlessness that had characterised their victory over Manchester United a week earlier.
The closest Roy Hodgson’s side came to breaking the deadlock from was from a free kick to the right of centre, more than 20 yards from goal. Duff looked favourite to strike it but dummied it for Clint Dempsey and the American’s shot clipped the top of the bar on the way over with Gomes, for once, beaten. The game was lively and open, but lacked many clear chances as both defences held sway.
Fulham bossed the second period – and might feel a little disappointed not to have walked away with three points. Zamora was a constant threat and his dangerous run down the left promised more than a cross that drifted out of reach of Dempsey early in the second period. The striker, desperate to add another goal to his fine recent run of form, must have thought he’d managed when he climbed majestically to a deep cross towards the far corner, but Gomes somehow pawed it to safety. Five minutes later, the Brazilian distinguished himself once again to deny Zamora, and he later gathered a Dempsey shot when the Fulham midfielder might have done better after Zamora had held off Bassong.
Only once little Luka Modric was brought on as a late substitute did Spurs show some real attacking threat. The Croatian buzzed around the midfield as if he had never been away and found Crouch in space outside the area. The tall striker’s shot arrowed towards the corner only for Schwarzer to save and the big Australian surpassed himself in keeping out the rebound, by foiling Jenas at point blank range.
There was time for Fulham to mount one last surge forward. Zamora sent Duff through into the inside right position and the Irishman drove a dangerous ball across the face of goal, but Dempsey ended up in the net instead of the ball, which flew away for a throw in. It was a matter of inches, but both managers would have probably accepted a point beforehand. Fulham’s festive fixtures don’t get any easier – it’s Chelsea at the Bridge on Monday afternoon.
FULHAM (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Baird, Murphy, Duff, Dempsey; Gera; Zamora. Subs (not used): Stockdale, Kallio, Smalling, Etuhu, Greening, A. Johnson, Nevland.
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (4-4-2): Gomes; Corluka, Assou-Ekotto, Dawson, Bassong (King 90); Lennon, Palacios, Jenas, Kranjcar (Modric 71); Keane (Defoe 71), Crouch. Subs (not used): Alnwick, Bale, Huddlestone, Pavlyuchenko.
REFEREE: Steve Bennett (Orpington)