Frantic finale tests Redknapp recovery
Fulham 1 Tottenham Hotspur 3
Bullish as ever, Harry Redknapp might be straining at the leash
to return to the touchline at the earliest available opportunity,
but the Tottenham manager's doctors may feel rather differently. If
they witnessed, at Fulham yesterday, the stresses and strains which
even victory can bring, they might be minded to recommend an even
longer period of convalescence.
This should have been straightforward for Spurs. Two ahead at half-time, thanks to Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon, and faced only with a pliant, perfunctory Fulham: just what the doctor ordered. No drama, no tension, nothing to disturb Redknapp's repose, nothing to exercise his recovering heart.
Even seated in the comfort of his Sandbanks home, though, the 64-year-old will have struggled to watch the second half. Even the healthiest of managers would have found it difficult to endure without palpitations. Fulham roared forward, Spurs fell back and only at the last was a seventh victory in eight Premier League games secured. Not the ideal start to Redknapp's recovery.
"That last 30 minutes would have been a tester for him," said Joe Jordan, his appointed lieutenant. "If he passes that, which I'm sure he will, then maybe he can come back a little bit sooner. He needs another few weeks to recover, but at least in the first half we treated him nicely. We punished him in the second. I'll let him have a deep breath and settle down a bit before I speak to him."
A wise course of action: Redknapp would have every right to question quite how Spurs contrived to jeopardise the position of complete dominance they enjoyed in the opening 45 minutes.
They did not particularly deserve the lead Bale secured for them after 10 minutes, his strike deflecting in off Chris Baird after Mark Schwarzer had parried Lennon's shot, but, equally, they did not look for a moment like they expected to surrender it to their hosts.
Even the occasional aberrations of the ever-unpredictable Younes Kaboul did not look like derailing Spurs' charge into the top four, the Frenchman's rashness allowing Clint Dempsey the best chance of the opening period, but the American found himself denied by the excellent Brad Friedel. It was a sensation that would become familiar.
By the time the 40-year-old was next called into action, Spurs looked safe. Indeed, as his players trudged in for the break, Redknapp's only worry – along with Scott Parker's broken nose and how serious the wince-inducing knee injury suffered by Zdenek Grygera might be – will have been quite how effective his team can be without him.
Jordan, assisted by Kevin Bond, encourage Lennon to switch flanks, and was rewarded with what looked like the clinching goal, the winger exchanging passes with Bale, haring towards goal, shimmying Baird off as though he were gossamer and beating Schwarzer at his far post.
Redknapp would not have known what was coming at that stage, as his wife, Sandra, plumped his pillows and made sure he was comfortable. If only, he might reflect, she had turned his television off, too. "You do not have to be at the stadium to feel the tension," the Fulham manager, Martin Jol, said. Not at all. The shockwaves of this will have travelled all the way to Hampshire.
And they would have been all the more troubling, all the more distressing, for how complicit Spurs were in their own near demise.
Not content with handing Fulham a multitude of chances as Jol's side emerged, straining at the leash, after the interval – a Damien Duff shot deflected over, a Brede Hangeland header saved, John Arne Riise denied at the last – Spurs then went a step further, and gave their hosts a goal. Ledley King headed Riise's corner against Kaboul's back, the ball trickled over the line; in Seven Sisters and in Sandbanks, hearts lurched.
It would grow worse. Fulham swarmed forward. Moussa Dembélé and Chris Baird stung Friedel's palms; Clint Dempsey, sprung through by Bryan Ruiz, rounded his countryman but could not beat Ledley King, the Spurs captain denying him on the line.
And then, at the last, Dickson Etuhu and Clint Dempsey were foiled on the line, the latter, seemingly, by the hand of Kyle Walker. "It was handball," Etuhu said. "I was right there. The referee knows. I had a word with him, and he said, 'I didn't see it, and if it was a handball then I'm sorry'."
There was more: a Hangeland header saved, Dempsey denied by Modric on the line. Fulham could scarcely believe it; Spurs could hardly breathe. Only once Jermain Defoe had volleyed home on the counter-attack, five minutes into stoppage time, could they relax. No joy, no jubilation, just relief. That is what awaits Redknapp upon his return. Perhaps he might enjoy a longer break, after all.
Substitutes: Fulham Kelly 5 (Grygera, h-t), Ruiz 5 (Duff, 71), Etuhu (Murphy, 76). Tottenham Hotspur Defoe 6 (Van der Vaart, 66), Sandro (78). Booked: Fulham None.
Man of the match Friedel.
Match rating 8/10.
Possession Fulham 54%Tottenham 46%.
Attempts on target Fulham 20 Tottenham 8.
Referee P Walton (Northamptonshire).
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