BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE
TUESDAY 26TH JANUARY, 2010
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 2 (1) FULHAM 0 (0)
Referee:- Mike Dean
Assistants:- Mr. S. Beck & Mr. S. Child
Fourth Official:- Mr. K. Wright
Spurs (4-4-2):- Gomes; Corluka, Dawson, King (Capt.), Bale; Bentley, Huddlestone, Palacios, Modric; Defoe (sub Keane, 81), Crouch
Subs not used:- Alnwick; Hutton, Bassong; Jenas, O’Hara, Rose
Fulham (4-4-1-1):- Schwarzer; Hughes, Smalling, Hangeland, Baird; Riise (sub Davies, 64), Murphy (Capt.), Dikgacoi, Duff; Gera (sub Kamara, 72); Zamora (sub Elm, 79)
Subs not used:- Zuberbuhler; Kallio; Greening; Nevland
On song Bale loses that hoodoo!
At the 23rd attempt, man of the match contender Gareth Bale finally lost that hoodoo of never having started a Premier League game for Spurs to finish on the winning side. More importantly, a refreshing Spurs side regained their league form, beating a somewhat depleted Fulham side to strengthen their hold on fourth place, at least in relation to Liverpool who drew at Wolves.
Manager Harry Redknapp made five changes from the team that started against Leeds. There was no sign of Niko Kranjcar, and David Bentley was given only his second league start of the season to play on the right wing. Tom Huddlestone returned to the midfield alongside Wilson Palacios who was on top of his game and is another contender for any man of the match award. Luka Modric was back at his best and playing where he has played best for Spurs – on the left side of midfield. Modric and Bale often combined ruthlessly to give Fulham right back Aaron Hughes a torrid time
Fulham included 20 year old Chris Smalling at centre back, beside Hangeland. Perhaps Smalling was overawed by the news that he was to be signed by Manchester United, but loaned back to Fulham for the rest of the season, but he made a couple of errors at the back. Spurs fans were generous in their reception of the former Spurs amongst the Fulham squad. Bobby Zamora had an impressive game, leading the line and often successfully shielding the ball against Ledley King before an accurate lay-off pass. This is the type of work that Zamora does that has often gone un-appreciated by his own fans. Bobby was making a rapid return from a collar-bone injury too.
Spurs played towards the Paxton Road End and made a lightning start with a cross from the right touched by Defoe and Crouch, before Huddlestone’s drive was saved by Schwarzer to concede the first of three early corners. From the first of these the keeper saved Dawson’s near post header, and from the third Schwarzer held another Huddlestone shot after Modric’s final pass. After such a blistering start it looked as if Spurs might score a hatful, but Fulham successfully slowed the game down, and with the midfield packed again, they often dominated possession without giving Gomes much work at all.
After 11 minutes, Fulham had a corner in front of the Park Lane stand where their fans occupied only the top tier of the usual away allocation. Damien Duff took it and after Spurs struggled to clear their lines, Duff returned the ball in to the area, where Gera touched the ball and Zamora nearly scored at close range. Gomes smothered the threat. During this stage of the game, a lot of Fulham balls seemed to be aimed at the area patrolled by 100 percenter Michael Dawson. “Daws” usually won the ball, but too often failed to clear to his own men.
In the absence of Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Gareth Bale is taking his opportunity with both feet and his head, demonstrating great speed, the ability to pass players, cross well, and of course to add threats from dead ball situations. Bentley was also keen to impress and his work ethic was consistent. He also combined well with his full back Vedran Corluka, who got forward to good effect. Bentley, Modric and Bale were involved in a good move where Schwarzer was equal to the final cross. Spurs took the lead in the 27th minute after Schwarzer failed to hold a Spurs cross from the right. Tipping to the right side of his area. The valiant Modric chased the ball to the bye-line and cheekily made an over-head kick to beat the defender and pass to himself as he moved back to retrieve the ball and pass inside with one motion, where Crouch made the finish from close range for his fifth league goal of the season and his tenth in all competitions.
There was little else in the way of a direct threat though for the remainder of the half until as added time started, Bentley passed inside to Huddlestone who came through a challenge with the ball, passing to Modric, who managed to find room for a shot that beat Schwarzer, but landed on top of the net.
Five minutes after the break, Bale and Modric started a move down the left flank, and spread the play to the other side where Bentley’s cross was met at the near post by a Palacios header which went several yards wide of the near post. Palacios had been the most dominant of Spurs central midfielders reading the game well, and winning just about everything that came in his direction, making the effort to successfully intercept other balls too!
Fulham had a chance after 52 minutes, when Bjorn Helge Riise cut the ball back for Damien Duff, whose effort from the edge of the box was held by Gomes. To be honest, most chances that were to fall to the visitors were going to be speculative efforts from distance which did not bother the Spurs keeper. Spurs increased their lead on the hour after Bale was fouled and Bentley took the free kick, which took a slight deflection but beat Schwarzer at his back post. Since the dubious goals committee awarded Bentley’s free kick against Wigan as his goal, this was his second league goal of the season.
Simon Davies was cheered around the ground as he replaced Riise, but in a tame end to the game, Spurs were rarely pressured. Schwarzer held another free kick taken by Bentley, after a foul on Defoe, and when Bentley took a kick after he had been fouled after 76 minutes, Michael Dawson headed wide at the rear post. Swedish forward David Elm made his first league appearance for Fulham replacing the tiring Zamora, who again was generously applauded by the whole stadium. It made no difference though, as the game petered out, although referee Mike Dean finally had to get out his yellow card to wave at substitute Kamara, and to Michael Dawson in a game that had been easy to control.
Both Manchester City and Aston Villa have sufficient games in hand to potentially overtake us, but that won’t happen yet, as City are engaged tonight in their League Cup semi-final against United. Villa face the gooners tonight. Spurs have to play both Villa and City in the next few weeks, so all they have to do is keep winning their games! That is not as easy as said of course, and the difficulty starts on Saturday at St. Andrews against the resilient Birmingham side.
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