In his first match at the helm of sinking Fulham, Rene Meulensteen’s tactics were simple. With a struggling back line, his best defense became an offense.
Fulham pressed Tottenham throughout, but it wasn’t to be on Meulensteens debut as Vlad Chiriches and Louis Holtby worldlies put Spurs through for all three points.
It’s a painful result for the Whites, their sixth straight defeat, but if nothing else it’s a promising display going forward under new management.
Andre Villas-Boas will be thanking his lucky starts his players were able to pull those goals out of the bag considering how wasteful they were in the first half.
Jermain Defoe had the match’s first good chance on goal, picking out a poor pass by Aaron Hughes and tracking Philippe Senderos back before firing on net and forcing a nice reaction save by Maarten Stekelenburg.
Fulham responded with a few spells in the Spurs box, one that nearly saw Alex Kacaniklic find Dimitar Berbatov but the Bulgarian striker couldn’t connect on the ball. Giorgis Karagounis popped off a shot from a tight angle as well.
Then suddenly the game exploded open. Dimitar Berbatov nearly had the opener in the 22nd minute, but Hugo Lloris produced a world-class save as he got fingertips to the low volley.
Spurs then countered, and should have gone 1-up. Jermain Defoe made the run through the central midfield, and he found Paulinho in the box who brilliantly cut back twice to get by defenders. The move resulted in acres of space 5 yards away from a wide open goal, only to blaze well over with a shocking miss.
Back down the other end Fulham went, and on a corner Ashkan Dejagah touched a strong header just over the bar.
Again Spurs had a glorious opportunity to take the lead in the 31st minute as Defoe was one-on-one with Senderos on the edge of the box. His pass sliced through to Erik Lamela, but the Argentinian’s low drive went just past the post.
Stekelenburg made a brilliant save a minute later, as another Lamela shot takes a deflection but the keeper leaped to track it down.
Somehow, the game ended goalless at the halftime break, and in the second half Fulham’s defense continued to absorb some pressure.
The 53rd minute saw Defoe attempt a strong back-heel but men were there to collect, and Paulinho’s follow-up was blocked.
Then the breakthrough, a deserved goal for the game. Parker won the ball in the midfield, and a beautiful ball from Berbatov across the attacking third to Dejagah in plenty of space who finished professionally past Lloris.
The goal energized the home side even more, as Fulham put in by far the best performance of the season. However, out of nothing Chiriches drew level, shocking everyone at the ground.
A corner was easily cleared in the 73rd minute well out, and the center back popped off a low volley from 35-yards out snuck past a crowd of players and fooled Stekelenburg for the equalizer.
Still, Fulham did not let down, and Berbatov nearly put them back in front on 80 minutes.
But a youngster was there to rescue all the points for Villas-Boas. German former U-21 international Louis Holtby cut out a bit of space some 30 yards out, and the ground was left pondering what could have been as Holtby’s wonder goal flew in.
Pajtim Kasami hit the post in added time, but all of Fulham’s hard work had been successfully been undone.
The Whites remain languished in 18th place, with just 10 points on the season. Andre Villas-Boas will be delighted to see his club leap up to 6th place above Newcastle and Southampton.
Fulham – Dejagah 56′
Tottenham – Chiriches 73′; Holtby 82′
Fulham: Stekelenburg; Riether, Hughes, Senderos, Riise; Karagounis (Sidwell, 62′), Parker (Ruiz, 87′); Kacaniklic (Duff, 85′), Kasami, Dejagah; Berbatov.
Tottenham Hotspur – Lloris; Walker, Chiriches, Dawson, Vertonghen; Sandro (Chadli, 69′), Capoue (Holtby, 45′); Lennon, Paulinho, Lamela (Townsend, 78′); Defoe.