This match felt like a microcosm of Fulham’s miserable season. The Whites began with pace and purpose, taking the attack to a weakened Tottenham side with new signing Ryan Babel to the fore. They enjoyed a stroke of good fortune, taking the lead through Fernando Llorente’s own goal, and should probably have extended their lead during a concerted spell of first-half pressure. That failure eventually cost them as Dele Alli equalised with a far-post header, but the knockout blow arrived with 15 seconds of injury time remaining, when Harry Winks arrived to nod home a delicious cross from Georges-Kévin Nkoudou to steal all three points.

This setback, coupled with Fulham’s defeat at Burnley last weekend, feels terminal – even though there is plenty of football to play. Claudio Ranieri won’t countenance such talk, but the psychological impact of another damaging loss was etched all over distraught Fulham faces at the death. Seven points behind fourth-from-bottom Newcastle and, with a horrendous March of fixtures to become, Ranieri’s men need something to change and fast.

The Whites were workmanlike rather than wondrous, but their high-octane start certainly unsettled Spurs. Babel, who arrived earlier this week on a six-month loan deal from Besiktas, caught the eye from the outset and not just for his shock of red hair. The former Liverpool winger offered pace and power from a wide left position, immediately worrying the Tottenham back line. He linked well with Mitrovic and burst away from a ponderous Davinson Sanchez before drawing an excellent reaction save from Hugo Lloris.

Fulham proved unusually threatening from set-plays with Jean-Michael Seri’s swerving deliveries posing all sorts of problems for the Spurs defence. With the visitors preoccupied by Aleksandar Mitrovic, the hosts took the lead after a corner narrowly eluded Tim Ream’s near-post run and ricocheted in off the unfortunate Llorente, who endured another trying afternoon. The tall Spaniard should have made amends with a header from Jan Vertonghen’s floated cross, but Sergio Rico parried a poor header and Denis Odoi thumped the rebound to safety.

Babel spurned a couple of good chances to extend Fulham’s lead, heading narrowly over the bar after an electric run and cross from Cyrus Christie down the right. The Dutch international was then denied by a superb saving tackle from Vertonghen after an outrageous backheel from the energetic Calum Chambers. The home side had a second chalked off for offside when Lloris brilliantly parried an Andre Schurrle volley and Mitrovic was flagged as he forced home the follow-up.

Fulham were far more passive in the second half and were pushed deeper and deeper as Spurs controlled possession. Alli appeared to have more license to roam after the break and the England midfielder punished some more sloppy defending by poaching an equaliser six minutes into the second period. Tim Ream horribly scuffed an attempt to clear his lines and the ball dropped invitingly for Christian Eriksen, whose floated ball in was perfect for Alli to head home.

It seemed for a while as though the equaliser might open the floodgates. The visitors did begin to lay siege to the Fulham goal and Ranieri’s men were indebted to an excellent challenge from Maxime Le Marchand as Eriksen drove an effort goalwards, but aside from a rasping drive from Danny Rose that rattled the crossbar, Fulham were untroubled. Tottenham struggled to create a clear opening right until the death, although the introduction of Ibrahima Cisse with ten minutes to go – perhaps a puzzling choice with Tom Cairney kicking his heels on the touchline – only invited further pressure.

It looked as Fulham would be able to collect a precious point, but they reckoned without Tottenham’s late show. The home side eschewed opportunities to run the clock with Sergio Rico punting the ball downfield in the direction of a shattered Mitrovic – and were punished for their naivete. Nkoudou, who had been expected to leave Spurs during this month’s transfer window, delivered the type of teasing cross that Tottenham had lacked for so long and Winks got goalside of Joe Bryan to direct his header home and spark joyous celebrations in the Putney End.

FULHAM (3-4-3): Rico; Odoi, Le Marchand, Ream; Christie, Bryan, Chambers, Seri (Cisse 81); Schurrle (Kebano 72), Babel (R. Sessegnon 55), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Cairney, Ayite, Vietto.

BOOKED: Mitrovic, Seri.

GOAL: Llorente (o.g. 17).

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (3-4-2-1): Lloris; Alderweireld, Sánchez, Vertonghen; Trippier, Rose, Eriksen, Winks; Lamela (Dier 79), Alli (Nkoudou 86); Llorente. Subs (not used): Gazzaniga, Foyth, Davies, Skipp, Sterling.

BOOKED: Sanchez, Rose, Alderweireld.

GOALS: Alli (51), Winks (90+3).

REFEREE: Craig Pawson (Sheffield).