A first home defeat since early November meant a disappointing afternoon at the Lane as former Spur Dimitar Berbatov’s second half strike was enough to earn Fulham a 1-0 win.
The Bulgarian striker netted the only goal of what proved to be a frustrating game in the 52nd minute, just seconds after we almost took the lead, while the visitors had goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer to thank for the win as he made a couple of fine saves to deny us late on.
Andre Villas-Boas freshened the side up by making five changes from the line-up which endured 120 minutes of Europa League action in the San Siro on Thursday. Hugo Lloris replaced Brad Friedel in goal, while Michael Dawson, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Steven Caulker and Gareth Bale came in for William Gallas, Kyle Walker, Jake Livermore and Jermain Defoe.
It was a surprisingly subdued first half with the only real chance of any note for either side coming in the sixth minute. That fell to Gareth Bale who got up well to meet Gylfi Sigurdsson’s corner, the Welshman’s header destined for the top corner until Sascha Riether cleared his effort off the line.
After that it was a very low-key 45 minutes, with a series of long-range shots the only real efforts on goal. On 23 minutes Michael Dawson, Mousa Dembele and Bale combined to work some space, the ball ran loose to Sigurdsson but he cut across his 20 yard shot and it drifted well wide.
A minute later, Sigurdsson’s free-kick was cleared to Benoit Assou-Ekotto, he laid the ball into the path of Scott Parker who tried his luck from 25 yards but it was always just rising over the bar.
Bale hit another speculative effort over on 35 minutes after Kyle Naughton acrobatically kept the ball in play down the right flank, while Sigurdsson never troubled Schwarzer with his 22-yard drive in first-half stoppage time.
Fulham saw plenty of the ball but created very little in possession, their one and only attempt on goal coming from Steve Sidwell after 41 minutes, but his shot flew high and wide.
They did threaten two minutes later when Berbatov was sent away down the right, his cross from the touchline was intercepted by a diving Hugo Lloris who then spilled the ball, but reacted quickest to clear the danger.
We made a change at the interval with Clint Dempsey coming on against his former club in place of Dawson and the second period began with plenty more tempo, bursting into life in the 52nd minute.
First, we worked the ball out of defence well as Naughton found Sigurdsson, he tucked it back inside to Bale who worked a yard of space and fired in a shot which was saved by Schwarzer.
But Fulham went straight up the other end and opened the scoring. Ashkan Dejagah released Riether down the left, he burst clear down the flank and centred for Berbatov to tuck past Lloris.
And it was so nearly 2-0 minutes later when Karagounis’ corner was flicked on by Bryan Ruiz but Brede Hangeland headed just wide at the far post.
We made two more changes as we searched for the equaliser with Jermain Defoe and Tom Carroll replacing Sigurdsson and Dembele respectively and the former was quickly into the action on 70 minutes.
Naughton released Caulker foraging forward down the right, his cutback found Defoe 12 yards out and his first time shot had power but was kept out by Schwarzer.
We saw lots of the ball in the closing stages but found it difficult to break down Fulham’s defence. Carroll’s neat and tidy passing and probing was creating space but the visitors were solid at the back and kept us at arm’s length for much of the closing stages.
That was until the 90th minute when it looked for all the world as if Defoe was going to salvage a point. Bale finally found space to run into down the right and his cross was met by Defoe on the edge of the six yard box but Schwarzer’s sprawling save denied the England striker…and with it our chance of saving a point from the game.
Spurs (4-4-2): Lloris; Naughton, Caulker, Dawson (Dempsey 45), Vertonghen; Sigurdsson (Defoe 62), Parker, Dembele (Carroll 67), Assou-Ekotto; Bale, Adebayor. Substitutes (not used): Friedel, Walker, Livermore, Holtby, Dempsey.
Fulham (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Riether, Senderos, Hangeland, Riise; Dejagah, Karagounis (Enoh 77), Sidwell, Duff; Berbatov, Ruiz (Emanuelson 90+2). Substitutes (not used): Etheridge, Hughes, Richardson, Petric, Rodellega.
Goals: Fulham – Berbatov (52)
Yellows: Fulham – Dejagah. Spurs – Dempsey.
Referee: Mike Jones