Spurs find range late on to deflate Berbatov-inspired Fulham

Fulham 1 Tottenham 2

Spurs find range late on to deflate Berbatov-inspired Fulham

Spurs came through in the end, with late goals from Vlad Chiriches and Lewis Holtby making up for Fulham’s opener from Ashkan Dejagah, but it was far from comfortable for Spurs.

As is so often the case, the change of manager had an invigorating effect on a Fulham team that looked to have given up the ghost in recent weeks.

The elevation of Meulensteen to head coach in place of Martin Jol came after a run of six straight defeats during which Fulham’s performances got worse. Players had looked like they were going through the motions at times, though it is always hard to tell with Dimitar Berbatov, so languid is the Bulgarian’s body language on any given day.

Berbatov, never afraid to make himself unpopular, had chosen the week of Jol’s departure to make it clear that he fancies a move, too, and it was hard to tell if his unusually energetic performance against the side that brought him to England was down to auditioning for a January move or the general upturning effort that had gone through the Fulham ranks.

They started nervously, understandably, and could have been a goal down inside five minutes but for a fine save from Maarten Stekelenburg to keep out a piledriver from Jermain Defoe.

The England striker was recalled by Andre Villas-Boas, another manager under pressure, in place of the expensive Roberto Soldado, who has proved a disappointment so far.

Defoe showed that he can set up chances for his team-mates, too, though he may have wished he had gone himself as first Paulinho and then Erik Lamela wasted good opportunities.

Paulinho, who blazed his shot over the bar from 12 yards, had a game to forget and does not look anything like the highly-rated Brazilian who arrived in the summer.

Fulham, by contrast, looked like the side Jol must have wished he’d seen more often. Hungry, hard-working and lively, they settled down after realising that Tottenham’s ponderous approach was not hurting them and began to create chances of their own.

And at the centre of it all was Berbatov. His first chance came in the 11th minute when his glancing header was too close to Hugo Lloris, and then a minute later showed uncharacteristic lack of control when Alex Kacaniklic put him through on goal.

He then showed great awareness to turn quickly and fire in a low shot, but Lloris flung himself across goal to save. Stekelenburg then matched that with a fine save to keep out a long shot from Lamela, a rare effort from Spurs who had plenty of possession but found it difficult to break down a Fulham side that were well-organised and hard-working, no-one more so than Berbatov.

The Bulgarian went close again early in the second half with another shot on the turn, this time into the sidenetting. But then he produced a moment of magic to set up Dejagh’s goal. Michael Dawson and Paulinho got their wires crossed close to the halfway line, allowing Berbatov to win the ball. A quick shimmy and a turn gave him the space to pick out Dejagah in acres of space on the right, and the Iranian took one touch before drilling the ball into the far corner of goal.

Fulham’s fans erupted in joy, and started to believe a rare victory was in sight, with Spurs looking so toothless in attack. But Villas-Boas rang the changes, sending on Lewis Holtby, Andros Townsend and Nacer Chadli in a desperate attempt to claw something back. It worked, and came from the most unlikely of sources.

A corner from the right was only half-cleared by the Fulham defence, and Vlad Chiriches sent it back with a stunning half-volley from 30 yards that flew across the turf and past a startled Stekelenburg.

Spurs had the attacking momentum now and Holtby put Spurs ahead with eight minutes to go.

Kyle Walker cut in from the right, fed the ball to Holtby and the German took one touch past Scott Parker before unleashing an unstoppable shot into the top corner of goal.

Even in the closing stages Fulham refused to go quietly, and Lloris made two stunning saves to deny them a point.

FULHAM: Stekelenburg 7; Riether 7, Senderos 6, Hughes 6, Riise 6; Kasami 7, Dejageh 7, Karagounis (Sidwell 61) 6, Parker (Ruiz 87) 7, Kacaniklic 6; Berbatov 8.

TOTTENHAM: Lloris 9; Walker 8, Dawson 6, Chiriches 7, Vertonghen 7; Lennon 6, Capoue (Holtby 46) 5, Sandro (Chadi 70) 6, Paulinho 6, Lamela (Townsend 78) 7; Defoe 6.

Referee: M Clattenburg.

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