Boca comes up trumps
Fulham put their London derby blues behind them last night as they overcame a young Spurs side in a gritty encounter at Craven Cottage.
This is a game that will not live too long in the memory for Fulham or Tottenham fans. Both sides cancelled each other out and there was little of note worth mentioning until Matt Dawson’s sending off- for a second bookable offence in the last minute of normal time- for a clumsy challenge on Heider Helguson.
The resulting free-kick had Coleman- who has had flu all week- punching the air, as Simon Elliot swung in a cross that Carlos Bocanegra headed past Robinson to steal all three points from a game that looked certain to finish 0-0.
This was Coleman’s 100th game in charge at Fulham and he would have enjoyed it more than any other after only their second league win against Spurs from fourteen games. Fulham had only taken one point from six London derbies this season prior to this match which made the win all the sweeter.
Prior to this game beginning Fulham had not failed to score at home since their first game of the season in a 0-0 draw against Birmingham. Spurs, meanwhile, had only scored fewer goals on the road than Manchester United and Chelsea.
Tottenham took the early initiative in an otherwise cagey start to the game from both sides, with Reid, Keane and Lennon all looking lively and trying to find a way through.
Rasiak had an early chance with a volley from 20 yards that he hit into the ground, taking the pace of the ball that left Niemi untroubled.
They seemed to wake up when Reid left the field injured after an encouraging start, to be replaced by Tom Huddlestone. The 21-year-old played maturely and adeptly filled the role of dictator in the midfield, spraying passes left, right and through the middle only for the inept Rasiak to waste all that came his way.
Fulham in fairness tried to play their usual attacking style throughout, with McBride coming closest in the 13th minute after flicking on a Boa Morte header but Robinson was equal to it to push it away to safety.
McBride was again on hand 20 minutes later, volleying hard straight at Robinson from 15 yards after Spurs failed to clear their area.
Despite enjoying a lot of possession in the first half, Fulham looked strangely short of ideas as the darlings of Craven Cottage, Luis Boa Morte and Steed Malbranque, looked very much out of sorts.
Spurs should have heeded the early warning from Carlos Bocanegra as with plenty of space around him, he latched on to a Boa Morte cross but headed well wide. Tottenham’s defence looked a bit nervous early on despite Ledley King and Matt Dawson standing tall when called upon.
Fulham whipped in several crosses in the first half and tried to stretch the Spurs back-four, with Wayne Bridge looking very composed and confident as he dominated the left-hand side of the pitch, papering over the cracks of a tatty Boa Morte performance.
The second half picked up where the first half left off. Fulham were again probing for a way through but Spurs defence held it’s nerve.
One of the highlights off the night, particularly in the second half was the battle between Fulham’s young right-back, Liam Rosenior and Spur’s lively 18-year-old winger, Aaron Lennon. Time and time again Lennon ran down the left trying to find a way past Rosenior, only to see the ball stolen from underneath his feet or bounce off for a corner. The crosses that did get through left Tottenham’s forwards with a lot to be desired as most went unchallenged, or six-foot-four Zat Knight dealt with them comfortably.
Half way through the second half Spurs thought they had a decent shout for a penalty after Luis Boa Morte brought down Jermaine Jenas as he charged into the area from the right, but replays showed Boa Morte took the ball first.
After that Spurs stepped up the gears with Lennon and Keane camped in the Fulham half trying to create chance after chance, only for the final ball to come to nothing. Huddlestone began to impose himself on the game more spraying passes down the left for Lennon to chase, as Spurs pushed up-field.
Tottenham manager Martin Jol introduced Defoe after 70 minutes as Tottenham started pressing hard to take all three points. Just as Tottenham looked like they might get something out of the game Boa Morte set off down the inside left and his pass to Helguson encouraged Dawson’s foul to set-up the free-kick that would decide the game.
Fulham have now won seven out of their last eight premiership home matches and on this form, particularly with McBride and Bridge making such an impact on the team and even with Malbranque and Boa Morte out of sorts, Chris Coleman can look forward to a strong finish to the season.