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Kamara stuns Spurs

This was one of those games you just thought Fulham wouldn’t get anything out of. Outpassed and outplayed by a slick Spurs side that looked like they were starting to click again under Martin Jol, the home side found themselves 3-1 down after a brilliant solo goal from the impressive Gareth Bale just after the hour. That looked like game over, especially as Fulham’s solitary goal came against the run of play courtesy of a Clint Dempsey header.

But somehow Lawrie Sanchez’s side clawed themselves back into the contest. Tottenham fans could point with some justification to the fact that Fulham’s unlikely resurgence came only after Robbie Keane, who had partnered Dimitar Berbatov in a razor-sharp Spurs attack, was substituted with a quarter of the game left. The game still looked well beyond Fulham when the tireless Alexei Smertin, easily their best player, shot towards goal more in hope than expectation from the edge of the box. The goal owed much to fortune as a hefty deflection off Ricardo Roche, who threw himself in front of the ball, took it away from the helpless Paul Robinson.

Fulham drew belief from that but it was still a stretch to see them equalise. But level they did deep into added time. Chris Baird hurled a long throw deep into the Tottenham box and Diomansy Kamara showed breathtaking agility to produce an awesome overhead kick, sending the ball into the top corner and stealing the most precious of points.

Such an outcome seemed ludicrous only half an hour earlier. Tottenham had played some sublime football and the sad thing from a Fulham point of view was that much of it came through one of our former heroes in Steed Malbranque. The Frenchman, whose mesmorising running thrilled the Cottage crowds for six years before he fell out with Chris Coleman, scampered around the pitch with carefree abandon and wreaked havoc on the Fulham defence.

That’s not to say that Spurs didn’t have any help in establishing what seemed to be an impregnable advantage. Antti Niemi, returning from a wrist injury, made a horrid harsh 0f trying to claim Bale’s tenth-minute corner and defender Younes Kaboul had the simplest of tasks to stab home his first goal for Tottenham from close range.

The visitors were quickly in their stride and the goal only galvanised them. Fulham looked cumbersome in possession and alarmingly vulnerable at the back. The addition of Dejan Stefanovic, the Serbian veteran signed from Portsmouth on deadline day, had hardly helped to shore up a creaking defence, which was prized open again on 28 minutes. Berbatov raced gleefully onto Keane’s raking pass, leaving Stefanovic trailing in his wake, as he smashed home the second, making light of what appeared to be a tight angle.

Tottenham were rampant and will now rue not killing Fulham off. Jermaine Jenas was a little too greedy as he bore down on goal, electing to try and beat Niemi rather than rolling the ball across the box to Keane, who was completely free. It came as some shock when Fulham rallied just before the break. Dempsey rose majestically to head home a corner, but it still seemed like a mere blip for Jol’s side.

Spurs soon reestablished the first half pattern and Malbranque was unfortunate not to crown his fine performance with a goal when he hit the post with a fierce shot. The visitors did get their third when Bale brilliantly ran onto a clever backheel from Keane and sped into the penalty area. His assured finish was impressive, despite being unchallenged, but Tottenham’s joy turned to despair in the closing minutes.

FULHAM (4-4-2): Niemi; Baird, Konchesky, Stefanovic, Bocanegra; Smertin (John 79), Davis, Davies, Dempsey; Bouazza, Kamara. Subs (not used): Keller, Volz, Omozusi.

BOOKED: Bocanegra.

GOALS: Dempsey (42), Smertin (77), Kamara (90).

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (4-4-2): Robinson; Chimbonda, Bale, Rocha, Kaboul; Huddlestone, Jenas, Lee, Malbranque (Dawson 84); Keane (Defoe 68), Berbatov. Subs (not used): Cerny, Zokora, Taarabt.

GOALS: Kaboul (10), Berbatov (28), Bale (61).

REFEREE: Mike Riley (Yorkshire).

ATTENDANCE: 24,007

Sanchez out to avoid Shrewsbury upset

Fulham manager Lawrie Sanchez hopes his midfield duo of Steve Davis and Alexei Smertin will provide them with enough quality to overcome League Two side Shrewsbury in the second round of the Carling Cup.

Sanchez has been critical of his team’s inability to hold on to a lead and knows he cannot afford to suffer a humiliating exit at the hands of the Shrews.

Fulham threw away another lead against Aston Villa on Saturday and Sanchez is becoming increasingly frustrated.

The Cottagers are already struggling near the foot of the Barclays Premier League but Sanchez hopes his energetic midfield duo will have enough quality to steer them into the next round of the cup competition.

“Steven’s got great energy and gets about the field. He gets among players, wins the ball and gets things started off,” he said.

“It’s the nitty-gritty stuff in midfield that the rest of the team need and you don’t tend to get a lot of credit for that.

“He needs to add goals to his game. He could have scored against Arsenal but he also creates things for other people.

“I think once he gets his feet firmly under the table he’ll be a real big influence over the Fulham midfield for many years to come.

“The two midfield players at Fulham outran anybody else over the first three games. Davis and Smertin are continual motion and you need that in the centre of midfield.

“You need players who can get around the field and be an option for you. I have been very impressed with our two central midfield players.”

But the Fulham boss hopes to add to his playing squad before the end of the transfer deadline this week.

Celtic pair Thomas Gravesen and Kenny Miller top his most-wanted after the pair were reportedly placed on the transfer list, although the Bhoys denied that.

Sanchez said: “We have to get back to the drawing board. Injury-wise, we’ve got Antti Niemi, Brian McBride and Aaron Hughes out and we do need some more bodies in the club.

“Hopefully we’ll attempt to do that this week. We aren’t very far away from being decent, but we do need to turn leads into wins.”

Fulham have also taken Stuttgart forward Danijel Ljuboja on trial.

Ljuboja is unlikely to remain with the German side after demanding wages equal to those he earned at his former club Paris Saint Germain.

He has since been left in the reserves at Stuttgart but now wants to move on after already rejecting a transfer to Siena.

Smertin seals Fulham fightback

The heavens opened at Craven Cottage tonight and it must have felt a world away from the sunshine of the Emirates on Sunday for poor old Tony Warner. His string of fine saves kept Fulham in contention for a win – and then a share of the spoils snatched from their grasp by a late Arsenal revival – on Sunday but in the teaming rain his glaring howler transformed a game that Lawrie Sanchez’s side were controlling into one where they had to battle to avoid defeat.

Battle they did, stirred into taking their chances by an extraordinary error at the heart of the Fulham defence. The danger looked to have passed when Warner collected Nicky Hunt’s long throw but, as he bowled the ball away to get a Fulham attack moving, it bounced off Zat Knight and into the path of Heidar Helguson. The former Fulham forward, shamefully booed by the younger elements of the Craven Cottage crowd, tucked away as straightforward a chance as David Healy converted at the weekend to score his first goal for Bolton.

Fortunately for Fulham, Healy was in predatory mood at the other end. The home side had dominated proceedings without carving Sammy Lee’s open too often. Pressed into more adventurous mode after Bolton’s goal, Fulham put the Bolton goal under a sustained assault. They buckled from a Simon Davies corner as Healy punished a poor clearance by firing home from six yards out.

Just three minutes later and the game had turned round completely. Another far from convincing clearance was hammered optimistically towards goal by Alexei Smertin, whose shot flew into the net via a massive deflection off the unfortunate Gerald Cid. It was just reward for Smertin’s splendid start to the season – the Russian was excellent at Arsenal – and had the energy and tenacity that Fulham needed against a Bolton side that mixed their usual uncompromising style with some more cultured passing.

Thankfully, the rain did subside somewhat after half-time to allow the game to be a little more of a spectacle. Bolton did their best to restore parity. Kevin Nolan missed a glorious headed chance at the far post after brilliant play from El-Hadj Diouf before Warner made one excellent excellent stop from Nicolas Anelka and Diouf drove just wide, but Fulham still carried plenty of purpose themselves. Substitute Diomansy Kamara, who was furious not to have been awarded a penalty shortly after replacing Healy, should have made sure of the points late on but the Senegalese forward spurned a glorious chance late on as he didn’t get a touch to a dangerous cross.

FULHAM (4-4-2): Warner; Baird, Konchesky, Knight, Bocanegra; Smertin, Davis, Davies, Bouazza (Dempsey 80); McBride, Healy (Kamara 79). Subs (not used): Batista, Volz, Diop.

BOOKED: Konchesky, Bocanegra.

GOALS: Healy (23), Smertin (26).

BOLTON WANDERERS (4-3-3): Jaaskelainen; Hunt, Samuel (Michalik 90), Cid, Meite; McCann (Mikel Alonso 76), Speed, Nolan; Anelka, Helguson (Braaten 72), Diouf. Subs (not used): Al-Habsi, Sinclair.

BOOKED: Diouf.

GOAL: Helguson (12).

REFEREE: Lee Probert (Gloucestershire).

ATTENDANCE: 21,102

Smertin secures win at Brighton

A second half strike from Alexei Smertin secured another pre-season win for Lawrie Sanchez as Fulham triumphed 2-1 at Brighton and Hove Albion tonight.

The Whites had to come from behind after some slack defending at a corner allowed Jake Robinson to give Brighton the lead in the third minute when the Fulham defence had failed to react to Guy Butters’ flick on. The former Portsmouth defender might have made it two during a torrid start for the visitors, but Aaron Hughes got his body in the way of a goalbound shot.

Brian McBride rattled the base of the post with a firm drive as Fulham finally threatened the Albion goal, but that was a rare excursion into the final third for the Londoners with Antti Niemi having to save smartly from Alex Revell after a lightning fast break. Michel Kuipers then made an excellent save to claw away a downward header from Clint Dempsey after the American midfielder had climbed highest to meet a cross from Simon Davies.

Fulham were forced into a change in goal with Niemi in obvious discomfort after claiming a high ball and the Finnish keeper was replaced by Tony Warner. The away side knitted together some more progressive moves into the final five minutes. Davies robbed Joel Lynch of possession and fed McBride, whose low shot was tame, before Papa Bouba Diop was denied from 25 yards by another excellent Kuipers save.

Sanchez’s side drew level on the stroke of half time. Kuipers was helpless this time after Dempsey raced through on goal and rounded the Brighton goalkeeper to equalise after being sent clear by a fine pass from Diop. There were definite suspicions of offside but the equaliser was allowed to stand.

Fulham made several changes at the break and they were far stronger in attack in the second period. Diomansy Kamara’s pace fashioned an early chance for Moritz Volz but the German’s venomous drive was charged down. Former Brentford forward Nicky Forster dragged a shot across the face of goal before Zat Knight headed a dangerous Albion cross over the bar.

The visitors were beginning to play better passing football with substitute Smertin to the fore. The Russian midfielder, excellent in anchoring the engine room, grabbed the decisive goal with a firm low shot from the edge of the box with twenty minutes remaining after he followed up a blocked effort from Kamara. Bas Savage posed a few problems for Fulham late on and Dean Hammond squandered a glorious chance in the last minute, heading over at the far post after good approach play from the Brighton substitute.

BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION (4-4-2): Kuipers; Whing, Rents, Butters, Lynch; El-Abd, Hammond, Robinson, Cox; Forster, Revell.

GOAL: Robinson (3).

FULHAM (4-4-2): Niemi (Warner 25); Baird, Koncheksy (Bocanegra 45), Hughes (Quedrue 45), Pearce (Knight 45); Diop (Smertin 45), Davis (Timlin 45), Davies (Rosenior 45), Dempsey; McBride (Kamara 45), Healy (Ehui 45).

GOALS: Dempsey (44), Smertin (71).

ATTENDANCE: 3,658.

Smertin sets European target

Alexey Smertin wants Fulham to qualify for Europe within the next two seasons after claiming the club’s stability convinced him to snub several rival offers.

Smertin rejected approaches from Blackburn, Middlesbrough and West Ham – among others – during the January transfer window to sign a two-and-a-half-year contract with Fulham.

The Russia midfielder has yet to taste victory six games into his return to the Barclays Premiership as Chris Coleman’s side glance nervously over their shoulders at the relegation battle below.

Fulham sit just five points off the drop zone with seven matches left to play but Smertin insists morale remains high.

“There were many, many reasons why I chose Fulham but I think the main one is that Fulham is a good, very stable team in the Premiership,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s going too badly for us at the moment despite the results and the fact that we haven’t won.

“The atmosphere is still very good and I am very happy in this team.”

He added: “I would like to get into Europe with Fulham.

“That’s important for me and for the club, but first of all it’s important to finish as high as possible in the table.”

Smertin, who was originally signed by Chelsea for £3.45million from Bordeaux in 2003, was lured back to England just a year into his new contract with Dynamo Moscow.

The 31-year-old found himself missing the Premiership and had no hesitation leaving his homeland.

“I got involved in the Fulham team quickly, which is what I wanted, so I feel very comfortable here,” he said.

“There is a very good atmosphere in the dressing room and that’s what I missed when I was in Russia.

“I missed the atmosphere on the pitch, in the dressing room and in training.

“I started to play in Russia but I said to myself, ‘It’s not my football’. I quit Russia six years ago and my mind and my football changed.

“I’ve lived in Europe for six years and I’ve got used to the type of football here.

“As soon as I came to the UK I said it was my type of football because it’s aggressive and dynamic.

“When I went to Moscow I signed a contract for four years, but after one season I cancelled it so I could come back to the UK.”