Only a few weeks ago, Mark Schwarzer was Fulham’s hero having produced a superlative injury-time penalty to preserve Fulham’s point in a pulsating London derby at Arsenal. The fickle world of modern football means you can go from the toast of the town to villain in an instant – as Clint Dempsey discovered on his return to Craven Cottage this afternoon – and the Australian goalkeeper will appreciate that more than most this evening as he reflects on his inability to keep out a speculative strike from Sandro: an error which turned another tight derby into a simple Saturday stroll for Spurs.
There hadn’t been a lot to choose between the two sides until ten minutes after the break when Fulham stood off Tottenham’s Brazilian defensive midfielder, inviting Sandro to shoot from fully forty yards out. The shot did swerve, but it was speculative at best, and Schwarzer should been able to save it down to his right. Instead, it squirmed through the 40 year-old’s clutches and cannoned in off his near post. The goal galvanised Tottenham and Fulham, who were far from fluent themselves, never recovered. Schwarzer did manage to repel a Gareth Bale effort at his near post just four minutes later but once the Welsh winger had limped off with a hamstring strain, Fulham were prized open by the silky skills of Gylfi Sigurdsson.
The Icelandic midfielder shone as Swansea run amock here in April and he wasted no time in picking up where he had left off. Sigurdsson skipped into the Fulham penalty area from the left flank, sauntering past Stephen Kelly and Philippe Senderos in the process, before squaring for Jerome Defoe to slot home from eight yards. Five minutes later, Defoe displayed the predatory instincts that make him Roy Hodgson’s strongest striking option when he sprinted onto an exquisite through ball from Dempsey and drove past stranded Schwarzer from twelve yards. While Andre Vilas-Boas celebrated a third consecutive commanding victory, the former Tottenham manager Martin Jol was left to reflect on how his current charges crumbled after Schwarzer’s error.
The game had been a sedate affair and, although Spurs started the stronger, their hosts were far from second best. The Hammersmith End enjoyed Dempsey’s failure to fire Tottenham into a second minute lead after the American, who claimed he left the Cottage in the summer as felt ‘underappreciated’ turned away from Aaron Hughes, only to drag his shot past the post with only Schwarzer to beat. In a first half of few chances, Dimitar Berbatov created Fulham’s clearest openings. A fabulous first touch followed by a raking pass released Steve Sidwell, but Spurs were able to snuff out the danger. An outrageous flick sent Ashkan Dejagah scurrying down the right and the Iranian’s low cross eventually came to Kerim Frei, only for the Turkish teenager to shoot wastefully over, and a delicious through ball sent Mladen Petric clear only for the Croatian to be halted in his tracks by a debatable offside flag.
Tottenham enjoyed plenty of possession but little of any note tested Schwarzer prior to Sandro’s strike. Bale, who was booked for diving for the second game in succession, sent a free-kick high into the stands before his afternoon was ended prematurely by that hamstring injury. Injuries had afflicted both sides pior to the Welshman’s exit. Vilas-Boas had to send on William Gallas for Michael Dawson as early as the seventeenth minute and Fulham were forced into a reorganisation at right back after Sascha Riether sustained a rib injury after clashing with Dempsey. Bale’s premature departure didn’t disrupt Tottenham, who never looked like relinquishing their lead, with Fulham’s only attempt at a flurry seeing Dejagah heading a Sascha Riether cross over the bar from five yards out. This wasn’t the reunion with Tottenham that Jol and Berbatov envisaged, although both Dempsey and Moussa Dembele, who was afforded a far more affection than his American team-mate, would have slipped away from south west London quietly content.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Riether (Kelly 29), Riise, Hughes, Senderos; Diarra, Sidwell; Dejagah, Frei (Duff 62), Petric (Rodallega 79); Berbatov. Subs (not used): Etheridge, Baird, Karagounis, Richardson.
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Naughton, Vertonghen, Caulker, Dawson (Gallas 17); Sandro, Dembele (Carroll 84); Lennon, Bale (Sigurdsson 62), Dempsey; Defoe. Subs (not used): Friedel, Walker, Livermore, Falque.
BOOKED: Bale, Gallas.
GOALS: Sandro (55), Defoe (72, 77).
REFEREE: Chris Foy (Hertfordshire).