When the lowest scoring home team in the Premier League takes on one of the meanest away sides, you don't expect a feast of excitement. No surprise, therefore, that Spurs and Fulham couldn't muster a single goal between them, though it wasn't difficult to work out which club was more satisfied with a point.
Boxing Day fixtures have traditionally been kind to Spurs with six wins on the trot. Fulham, conversely, had lost their last four but under Roy Hodgson have become a supremely fit and highly efficient unit and are now unbeaten in eight. As it happened, the visitors might have nicked it with six minutes to go. Heurelho Gomes, whose horrible blunder in last month's corresponding fixture not only gifted Fulham the points but also put his Tottenham place under threat, was again involved. But this time, a terrific block by the Brazilian prevented Andy Johnson from notching a late winner.
If Spurs fans thought a change of management would be the answer to all their problems following Harry Redknapp's arrival and an immediate surge in form, yesterday proved there are still plenty of failings to address. Spurs have now scored just once in their last three League outings and have taken just two points out of the last nine at home. Having had a £6m bid for Craig Bellamy rejected, expect that to be raised or another striker to arrive at White Hart Lane next month.
With Fulham's best defender Brede Hangeland out with the flu and missing his first game of the season, Spurs had every hope of sending the Yuletide crowd home happy. But Chris Baird fitted in seamlessly in place of the Norwegian and it was clear Spurs were going to have to produce something special to beat Hodgson's team.
The first half was conspicuous for three things, the substitutions of Tom Huddlestone and Jimmy Bullard , who both limped off injured, and a sensational save by Mark Schwarzer to keep out Aaron Lennon after fine work by Benoît Assou-Ekotto, conspicuous both for his Shaft-like Afro hairstyle and also arguably his best performance of the season.
Schwarzer also saved well from David Bentley and Luka Modric but Fulham, who ironically fielded four ex-Spurs players, were ruthlessly efficient defensively, expertly condensed space in midfield and always looked threatening up front with Johnson and Bobby Zamora. Next for Fulham is the small matter of Chelsea tomorrow but at least they go into their most eagerly awaited derby in good heart against their fiercest adversaries. "When you defend well, the shape of the team is good," said Hodgson. "This club is more than just one or two players with the rest bit-part, as is sometimes mooted. We are not attention seekers. In football, the people you really want credit and recognition from are the professionals who follow the game. We are trying to make Fulham a strong member of the Premiership."
Redknapp admitted that his side, who tomorrow travel to West Bromwich in what has suddenly become a vital fixture, lacked a cutting edge. "We had two points from eight games when I arrived and we are going to be stuck in it for a while," he said. "We are short in certain areas but it's really hard to balance the team up when you have Modric who's a world-class player. You can play all kinds of formations to accommodate him but whichever one you choose, you lose some other part of your game."
Quizzed about a new striker, Redknapp added: "Where do you find a top striker at this point of the season? Who is going to sell? I need four but I won't take any chances unless I'm sure who ever we bring in can improve the team."
Tottenham (4-5-1) Gomes; Corluka, Dawson, King, Assou-Ekotto; Bentley (Campbell, 58), Zokora, Huddlestone (Jenas, 19), Modric, Lennon; Bent (Pavlyuchenko, 71). Substitutes not used: Cesar (gk), Bale, O'Hara, Woodgate.
Fulham (4-4-2) Schwarzer; Paintsil, Baird, Hughes, Konchesky; Davies (Nevland, 90), Murphy, Bullard (Etuhu, 36), Dempsey; Johnson, Zamora. Substitutes not used: Zuberbuhler (gk), Gray, Stoor, Andreasen, Kallio.
Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).
Booked: Fulham Konchesky.
Man of the match: Assou-Ekotto.
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