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Fulham v Spurs, 01.09.07

FA PREMIER LEAGUE
SATURDAY 1ST SEPTEMBER, 2007
FULHAM 3 (1) TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 3 (2)

Fulham scorers:-
Dempsey, 42
Smertin, 77
Kamara, 90

Spurs scorers:-
Kaboul, 10
Berbatov, 28
Bale, 61

Referee: - Mike Riley

Attendance: - 24,007

Teams:-
Fulham (4-4-2):- Niemi; Baird, Stefanovic, Bocanegra (Capt.), Konchesky; Davies, Smertin (sub John, 78), Davis, Bouazza (sub Healey, 69); Dempsey, Kamara

Subs not used: - Keller; Volz, Omozusi

Booked: - Bocanegra

Spurs (4-4-2):- Robinson; Chimbonda, Kaboul, Rocha, Lee; Malbranque (sub Dawson, 83), Jenas, Huddlestone, Bale; Berbatov, Keane (Capt.) (sub Defoe, 67) Armband to Robinson Subs not used: - Cerny; Zokora, Taarabt

No bookings

At the end of a game “enjoyed by all the neutrals”, and no doubt also enjoyed by all the Fulham fans who saw their team come back from a two-goal deficit to gain a very welcome point, I was urged by one Spurs fan to write an uplifting report. This fan (I believe) saw the positive aspects of the game for Spurs, whilst behind me, another regular had berated the team and manager Martin Jol for surrendering their advantage, and failing to thrash the opposition out of sight when such an event had been clearly attainable. How can I be uplifting when I have seen my team lose two points to a 90th minute goal, lose a two-goal lead twice, and once again try to defend a lead and fail?

We had been tantalised in the run up to this game with the news that Kaboul, Dawson and Lennon were all in the reckoning for this game. As Kaboul is the only one of the three with any Premier League football under his belt so far this season, he was always favourite to start, and so it proved. Younes scored his first goal for the club too! Michael Dawson did make a late appearance but that has to be regarded as a disappointment really, because it signalled the intention to try and protect what was a slender one-goal lead. The midfield was weakened with the loss of Malbranque, Fulham’s four man attack was allowed to advance at will, and Diomansy Kamara extracted the ultimate satisfaction with a looping overhead kick that left Paul Robinson floundering, and Spurs too little time to come back yet again.

I can’t be uplifting. I can however record a few significant events which will show how Spurs could and should have won the game easily. I can’t say they should have had it wrapped up, because we all know that for Spurs, even a three goal lead is not enough for us to relax.

The only change to the line-up then was Kaboul for the injured Anthony Gardner, and Gareth Bale was once again to play in front of Lee. Fulham’s line-up is already radically different from Chris Coleman’s side of last year, and it will change more. Today, their latest recruit Dejan Stefanovic (signed from Portsmouth) made his debut, beside new Captain Carlos Bocanegra, who had scored a 90th minute winner for Fulham in this game the season before last. Kasey Keller was on the bench, and was warmly received by Spurs fans, and Simon Davies played right side of midfield. Former Villa midfielder – Steve Davis played in the central midfield beside Smertin, and Hameur Bouazza (signed from Watford) made up the midfield four. Former Spur Danny Murphy signed too late last night to be included for Fulham.

There were some busy exchanges in the opening minutes, before Spurs won two corners after 10 minutes. Niemi spilt both of them, getting away with it first time, but second time Kaboul was on hand and allowed to walk the ball into the net for his first club goal. Spurs and Robinson had a scare after 18 minutes, when Robinson could not hold Bouazza’s cross from the left. Steve Davis tried to finish off but somehow the ball ended up over the bar. Davies hit a shot across the goalmouth after an exchange with Kamara, before Spurs took a two-goal lead.

The goal came from a throw on the right, which landed well for Keane, chipping a great ball over the top into the path of Berbatov, who hit a crashing shot into the net from the right side of the box. There was no way back for the home side, surely? Berbatov sent Jenas away on a run which should have ended with the ball in the net, but Jenas allowed the ball to be taken off his feet as he was indecisive in the box – not for the last time in the game either. Robbie Keane too had been given an opportunity to increase Spurs lead, but again the chance petered out.

Spurs paid their first penalty for their generosity three minutes before the break, when Dempsey was allowed to rise to a corner and headed home powerfully, with Lee not quite reaching the ball in his attempt to head clear. Spurs did have an attack down the right side through Berbatov and Bale, ending with a good low shot by Bale, and a decent save by Niemi.

Soon after the restart, Berbatov demonstrated similar skills to those at Old Trafford, with a good 25 yard shot that Niemi flapped at and just about managed to force over the bar. After 54 minutes, a Bale corner was half cleared and Keane set up Jenas, whose shot was tipped over again by Niemi. A minute later, Bale was away down the left and his cross led to a Keane shot being parried and a Malbranque effort that hit the post and rebounded clear. Bale got a deserved goal in the 61st minute, when he was put clear by Keane. Berbatov ran with him, but Gareth had his mind set on goal and beat Niemi low on his tight side inside the right post. It looked so much like being a great away day for Spurs and their mass contingent of fans. A minute later, Jenas could have stretched the lead, when he carried the ball into the box and had a shot on, but chose to square it to Robbie, whose shot was just about cleared for a corner.

Fulham were really under the cosh, and after 66 minutes, Niemi flapped again, Berbatov shot from 30 yards out, and Baird cleared the goal-bound shot. A disconsolate Keane was replaced by Defoe, and not that there was necessarily a connection, Fulham started to express themselves more and more. Robinson made a good save of a free kick, but was left stranded when Smertin’s shot took a cruel looping deflection off Rocha going over Robbo and landing in the net. Smertin was soon replaced by Collins John. Robinson saved another free kick, but Spurs were now on the back foot trying to protect that lead, finally failing in the last minute, when Kamara had the space to score with his acrobatic kick that dipped into the top corner with Robinson just too far off his line (again).

There was no time to come back for Spurs. The draw was enough to lift both side four places up the early-season compressed lower table, and importantly took Fulham out of the bottom three. Now we have two weeks to wait before a more important London Derby!

· Football is an odyssey
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