Tottenham have climbed into fourth in the Premier League table with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Fulham at White Hart Lane.
Harry Redknapp’s side, who are now perfect over the festive period, settled the contest thanks to Gareth Bale’s well-placed header before the break. Rafael van der Vaart struck a free-kick goalwards and Bale rose to glance a header away from Mark Schwarzer in off the crossbar.
Fulham, buoyed by the win over Stoke, gave as good as they got at White Hart Lane and Mark Hughes will feel his charges deserved at least a point Heurelho Gomes’ save from Andy Johnson’s low drive was the closest the visitors came to levelling matters, although it was Spurs who claimed the three points.
The build-up to Saturday’s game was dominated by the news Spurs were trying to sign David Beckham on loan. And the home side set about demonstrating why manager Harry Redknapp was so keen to bring the former England captain to White Hart Lane. Aaron Lennon – the man whose place would be under threat from Beckham’s arrival – wasted three good chances to produce a final ball in the opening 45 minutes.
Otherwise, Fulham proved stubborn in the extreme, buoyed by their first win in 27 away games at Stoke on Tuesday. They also put together the best move of the half, some sweet one-touch passing releasing Dickson Etuhu, who was challenged by Benoit Assou-Ekotto. John Pantsil and Michael Dawson, respectively, were booked for tripping Bale and Clint Dempsey, who also screwed wide from 18 yards.
Spurs suffered a blow in the 27th minute when Alan Hutton hobbled off to be replaced by Vedran Corluka. Schwarzer – playing his final game before leaving for the Asian Cup – smothered long-range efforts from Assou-Ekotto and Roman Pavlyuchenko as Tottenham’s frustration grew.
But just as the first half looked set to end goalless, their two star men combined in unconventional fashion to put them ahead. Spurs were awarded a 42nd-minute free-kick and Bale got in the way of Van der Vaart’s 30-yard shot only to deliberately flick a header past Schwarzer.
Bale also forced a smart stop from Schwarzer before the break and more magic from him and Van der Vaart might have set up a second Spurs goal shortly after the restart but there was no-one to meet the latter’s dangerous cross.
Damien Duff almost profited from a brilliant cross-field Etuhu ball but he could not keep a difficult right-foot finish down. Fulham were otherwise demonstrating the lack of cutting edge which has been their undoing since Bobby Zamora broke his leg, with Danny Murphy, Dempsey and Duff all sending 25-yard efforts wide.
Lennon blew another good chance to deliver a cross before the visitors almost scored a freak equaliser. Gomes parried Andy Johnson’s shot straight into Dawson, who spared his own blushes by clearing off the line. Suddenly, it was all Fulham and Redknapp reacted midway through the half by withdrawing Pavlyuchenko for Peter Crouch.
William Gallas – making his first appearance for almost a month following a hamstring injury – needed his right thigh heavily strapped but was able to continue. Bale and Dawson both volleyed over right-footed within moments of each other as Tottenham tried to kill off their opponents in the final 15 minutes. But they were soon back under pressure themselves and tried to shore up their midfield by bringing on Jermaine Jenas for Van der Vaart, while Fulham also threw on Zoltan Gera for Duff.
Murphy and Dempsey saw shots blocked as Spurs’ defending became somewhat desperate but Lennon blew yet another great chance on the break, blazing over after an electrifying run. Assou-Ekotto was booked for cynically hauling back Gera and Lennon finally found a team-mate in the box, but Crouch’s tame finish was straight at Schwarzer. Fulham poured forward in stoppage-time and Spurs were hanging on at the end, but hang on they did.