On the day that Bolton Wanderers were relegated alongside Blackburn Rovers, the other side to be promoted to the top flight in 2000/01 had a carefree afternoon at White Hart Lane in front of them. Much of the credit for Fulham’s comfortable canter to the season’s finishing line had to go the returning Martin Jol, harshly sacked at Tottenham, who had inspired Champions’ League-qualifying form from a team troubled by relegation at the turn of the year at just the same time as Spurs’ push for the top four seemed to faltering.
Jol was given a rapturous reception by the Tottenham fans as he came out of the White Hart Lane tunnel for the first time since his undignified sacking, but Fulham didn’t really trouble their hosts until it was far too late this afternoon. Tottenham, who face an anxious to see whether they will make the Champions’ League as their qualification could be thrown into jeopardy should Chelsea win this year’s final in Munich on Saturday, were on easy street inside ninety minutes. Some careless defending from Stephen Kelly, who has had a superb season at right back, allowed Emmanuel Adebayor to pick up possession on the left wing and the former Arsenal striker, linked to a reunion with Thierry Henry in New York during the week, played a lovely one-two with Rafael van der Vaart before firing the return ball past Mark Schwarzer.
The home side were rampant. Schwarzer scampered from his line to make a vital save from Gareth Bale, who had motored forward from left back, and with news filtering through of West Brom coming from a goal down to lead Arsenal, the volume increased amongst the home fans. Somehow van der Vaart spurned a simple chance from close range after an expert Adebayor cut-back and Brad Friedel, the difference – along with Kyle Walker’s goalkeeping – when these two sides met at Craven Cottage, had to make two fine saves before the break to deny John Arne Riise and Moussa Dembele. Riise, will have to wait a fair few months for his first Fulham goal, despite running nearly fifty yards and unleashing a thunderbolt from his left foot.
Kyle Walker, who had injured a toe against Bolton, succumbed to the pain early in the second half and returned to the home bench on crutches – news that will worry Roy Hodgson, who will name the England squad for Euro 2012 on Wednesday. Spurs might have increased their lead but for some inept finishing: first Sandro inexplicably headed straight at Schwarzer when he met Aaron Lennon’s inviting cross from five yards and then Adebayor fired far too close to the Australian goalkeeper when one-on-one. They could have been punished for their profligacy when Dembele wriggled his way past a couple of challenges and hit the post from 22 yards.
Harry Redknapp sent on Jermain Defoe for the fading van der Vaart in response and it paid dividends. Lennon horribly miscued a shot but the ball deflected to the substitute, who underlined his worth to both club and country, with by scoring with his first touch from eight yards. A combination of Arsenal’s resilience and the careless goalkeeping of Marton Fulop mean that any celebrations after finishing four are very much on hold until Chelsea meet Bayern Munich next weekend. Fulham’s best football came in the last twenty minutes, but Friedel turned a Duff shot onto the post before saving superbly from Demebele, to preserve a clean sheet.
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (4-2-3-1): Friedel; Walker (Nelsen 50), Bale, Kaboul (A. Smith 76), Gallas; Sandro, Livermore; Lennon, Modric, van der Vaart (Defoe 60); Adebayor. Subs (not used): Cudicini, Giovani, Kane, Saha.
GOALS: Adebayor (2), Defoe (63).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Kelly, J.A. Riise, Hughes, Hangeland; Diarra, Murphy (Kasami 67); Duff, Frei, Dembele; Pogrebnyak. Subs (not used): Stockdale, Briggs, Senderos, Gecov, Trotta, Sa.
BOOKED: Hangeland, Murphy.
REFEREE: Phil Dowd (Stoke-on-Trent).