Malbranque heeds alarm as Tottenham go back to sleep

Fulham 2 - Tottenham Hotspur 0
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The Independent Football

If Jacques Santini's command of the English language remains limited he has learned enough to find fragile excuses for another dismal league defeat, Tottenham's fourth in five matches. Fatigue, injuries, suspensions. "Of course I'm disappointed," he said, "but not with our spirit. My team is young and we have to be patient."

If Jacques Santini's command of the English language remains limited he has learned enough to find fragile excuses for another dismal league defeat, Tottenham's fourth in five matches. Fatigue, injuries, suspensions. "Of course I'm disappointed," he said, "but not with our spirit. My team is young and we have to be patient."

Tottenham further tested the patience of their supporters at Craven Cottage where Fulham responded fully to the admonishments of their young manager, Chris Coleman, who ripped into his players in the match programme, demanding a greater sense of responsibility. "It was a good response," he said after the game. "Winning and losing is a habit and I had to break that habit. Things picked up when we won at Birmingham in the Carling Cup and it was important that we went on from there. Last season we came out of the blocks. We had nothing to prove. This year is different. The expectation is higher."

Unfulfilled expectation has become an annual experience for Tottenham, leading to a succession of managers. How long before it wears thin for Santini? To put it bluntly, Tottenham were woeful, rarely creating an opening for their international strikers and generally outplayed in midfield where Steed Malbranque was outstanding for Fulham.

Given a roaming commission, Malbranque was able to display his close-quarter technique and inspired playmaking. At first cautious, using Luis Boa Morte and Collins John to provide support from midfield for Andrew Cole, who had a fine match, Fulham took the initiative following a rare concerted Tottenham attack that ended with a wild attempt by Jermain Defoe in the 25th minute. Eight minutes later Fulham went in front when Boa Morte - who plagued the heavy-legged Tottenham right-back throughout the second half - exchanged passes with Malbranque and slipped the ball past Paul Robinson.

Coleman's praise for his tall 21-year-old centre back Zesh Rehman, who has been at the club since he was 14, and was making his full Premiership debut - "We thought of him as a defensive midfielder but he looks comfortable playing alongside Zat Knight - would have been shared by Defoe and Robbie Keane, who seldom got the whiff of an opening. With Keane dropping back into midfield in search of the ball, Tottenham had no cutting edge, a fault underlined by their miserable tally of just six goals from 11 league encounters.

The goals against column, just eight, is bettered only by Chelsea, but it hardly makes for football in the tradition fostered by the late Bill Nicholson, for whom a memorial service is being held at White Hart Lane next Sunday.

Possession was once a Tottenham trademark, but they had far less of the ball than Fulham and hardly managed an imaginative attack once the home side grew in confidence. That Robinson was the busier of the two goalkeepers told its own story.

The introduction of Simon Davies for Michael Brown in the 40th minute at least gave Tottenham proper width on the right. However, Fulham went further ahead on 61 minutes. Boa Morte had begun to run at will past the hapless Noe Pamarot and he was cleverly served by Cole, who pulled wide to head in the resultant centre.

Boa Morte's pace and willingness to take on Pamarot were a constant source of concern to Tottenham's hard-pressed defence and he became almost irresistible, following up his contribution to Fulham's second goal with a centre to John who was foiled only by Robinson's courageous plunge.

Tottenham added Frédi Kanouté to their attack, but it was too late to alter the course of events. With tough games against Newcastle coming up, Coleman had got the response he wanted. "The time for talking about things was over," he said. "We had players who were just turning up. They had to take a good look at themselves and produce on the field. Few people gave us a chance of staying up last season but by the end of the year we were almost safe. It was bound to be more difficult the second time around and I've learned a lot about management in the past eight weeks."

If Santini studies Tottenham's recent history he will find the next two league fixtures uninviting. With only one victory from their last 17 matches against London clubs they now face Charlton and Arsenal.

Goals: Boa Morte (33) 1-0; Cole (61) 2-0.

Fulham (4-4-2): Crossley; Volz, Rehman, Knight, Bocanegra; John (Radzinksi, 69), Diop, Pembridge, Malbranque; Cole, Boa Morte. Substitutes not used: Flitney (gk), McBride, Green, Rosenior.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Robinson; Pamarot, Naybet, King, Bunjevcevic; Brown (Davies, 40), Mendes, Davis (Carrick 82), Ziegler (Kanouté 67); Keane, Defoe. Substitutes not used: Keller (gk), Taricco.

Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).

Booked: Tottenham: Bunjevcevic.

Man of the match: Malbranque.

Attendance: 21,317.

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