Glenn Hoddle's 50th match as manager of Tottenham became a milestone rather than a millstone as he was able to celebrate a victory at last, after four successive defeats without a goal had left a season's ambitions in tatters. In contrast, Fulham, London's new rich kids on the block, are in trouble after a sixth consecutive loss left them only three points above the relegation places, with their manager, Jean Tigana, chewing his tooth-pick more pensively than ever.
The fixture was just the tonic required for the tottering Hotspurs, who have come to dread their visits to one end of the Fulham Road to play Chelsea, but always enjoy taking on the team down by the riverside: Fulham have only ever beaten them five times in 53 attempts. A sixth success, while desperately needed by the home side, was never on the cards yesterday once a freak goal by Teddy Sheringham after half an hour was quickly followed by a tap-in from Gustavo Poyet.
Confidence, already in short supply, drained from Tigana's team and misfortune, as is often the case, took its place – a header by Steve Marlet against the inside of the post was as close as Fulham came to rousing a significantly low crowd of under 16,000. "It's very dangerous now. We need to win three games," said Tigana, though two would almost certainly suffice and ought to be achieved from home matches alone. It is still not quite the scenario envisaged by Mohamed Al Fayed on the club's return to the big league after more than 30 years, and Tigana will certainly be asking his chairman to sign some hefty cheques before next season.
He employed what was effectively a 4-2-2-2 formation, with Steve Marlet out wide and the ineffective Barry Hayles tending to be isolated down the middle. Tottenham, using a back line of four with Ledley King out of position at right-back to counter it, had not been troubled by the time their brace of goals arrived.
Just before the half-hour, Christian Ziege attempted to curl in a free-kick which hit Sylvain Legwinski and took a ricochet off Sheringham's face to give the England man his first Premiership goal since 3 December, and one of the most fortunate of his career. Three minutes later Spurs scored a more worthy second, stemming from King's shrewd forward pass for Steffen Iversen, who nudged it out to Ziege. The German's shot was parried well by Edwin van der Sar but fell for Poyet to knock into an empty net.
Fulham, their morale as badly shaken as Tottenham's was boosted, took time to rally. They should have retrieved one goal just before the interval but Hayles, possibly distracted by his team-mate Sean Davis, put a header at the far post wide as Marlet stood the ball up for him.
Against that, Iversen ought to have ended the contest right at the start of the second half, when sent clear by Anthony Gardner of an offside trap that failed to close. He shot feebly wide. Fulham's second-half improvement, as Louis Saha was briefly moved into the middle, was not matched by a change of fortune, Marlet's header from a neat cross by Hayles bouncing almost along the line after striking a post.
Hoddle had warned after the home defeat by Charlton last Monday that pretty football might have to be sacrificed in pursuit of a results or two, which was how it turned out in securing a first away victory in the Premiership since defeating West Ham on 25 November. "We earned a bit of good fortune with all our hard work," he claimed. "This was a big result for us." And, in a different way, for Fulham.
Goals: Sheringham (29) 0-1; Poyet (32) 0-2.
Fulham (4-2-2-2): Van der Sar 5; Finnan 5, Ouaddou 4, Goma 5, Harley 4 (Brevett 5, 58); Davis 4, Legwinski 4; Malbranque 7, Saha 4; Marlet 6, Hayles 5. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Melville, Collins, Boa Morte.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-3-1-2): Sullivan 6; King 6, Perry 6, Gardner 6, Thatcher 6; Anderton 5 (Davies, 76), Sherwoood 6, Ziege 6; Poyet 7; Iversen 4, Sheringham 6. Substitutes not used: Keller (gk), Rebrov, Etherington, Thelwell.
Referee: P Durkin (Portland) 6.
Bookings: Fulham: Malbranque, Goma. Tottenham: Sherwood, Gardner.
Man of the match: Malbranque.
Attendance: 15,885.Reuse content