Bale touch of class denies Cottagers
Tottenham 1 Fulham 0
Published 02/01/2011 | 05:00
Harry Redknapp's intention to bring David Beckham to White Hart Lane has not exactly enraptured Tottenham fans, so it was perhaps handy for the manager that for much of this match Spurs played as if trying to build a case for borrowing the 35-year-old from Los Angeles Galaxy.
Here Tottenham looked jaded by their third match in six days and spent the last few minutes desperately staving off Fulham.
Despite the ever-clever probing of Luka Modric in the middle, there was a distinct lack of danger about most of the home team's passing. On the two occasions in the first period that Spurs did work their way behind the visiting defence, Aaron Lennon, the regular occupant of the position Beckham would be most likely to temporarily fill, squandered the opportunities with wayward crosses.
It was impossible not to wonder what an ageing loanee from Major League Soccer may have done from similar positions -- assuming he is still nimble enough to get into them.
Rafael van der Vaart has often been Tottenham's game-changer this season, but he was struggling to get involved here. He did take a free-kick from 20 yards in the third minute but when he banged his shot straight into the wall the mind again wandered to Beckham. But Spurs have generally done just fine without Beckham this season and in the 42nd minute they finally gave a reminder of the existing quality at White Hart Lane. Van der Vaart sent a free-kick from 35 yards towards the penalty spot and Gareth Bale leapt to send an intelligent backheader past Mark Schwarzer for the decisive goal.
Moments later, Bale displayed the more familiar aspect of his game, hurtling down the left and cracking a powerful left-foot shot from 16 yards that Schwarzer had to beat away with his feet.
Tottenham could have been awarded a penalty early in the second period after John Pantsil brought down Van der Vaart. A two-goal deficit would have been harsh on Fulham at that stage, as they had passed tidily, albeit without ever threatening. In the 51st minute the threat finally materialised and, indeed, Damien Duff should have drawn the sides level after being found with a splendid raking pass from Chris Baird, but the Irishman blasted into the side netting from eight yards. Fulham forged an even better chance in the 63rd minute, only for Andy Johnson to be foiled by a rescuing clearance from Michael Dawson.
Fulham were on top but their lack of a cutting edge was blatant and it was Totenham, reduced to playing on the counterattack, who came the closest to scoring again. Bale could have struck a second goal in the 75th minute.
However, the Welshman wielded his less trusty right foot and watched in despair as the ball flew over the bar from 12 yards.
Tottenham battled to keep only their third clean sheet in the Premier League this season but they would have enjoyed a less nervous conclusion to the match if Lennon had applied a sure finish to another swift counter-attack in the 84th minute rather than ballooning the ball over. Five minutes later, Lennon teed up Peter Crouch only for the striker to shoot straight at Schwarzer.
Those chances did not fool Redknapp into thinking his team had been on top. "The schedule at this time of year takes it toll, but we've got nine points from our three games and that's all you can ask for," he said. "But Beckham would have been useful in a game like that when we're under pressure. He could have come on and helped us keep the ball."
Mark Hughes, who saw his side slip to second from bottom as a result of this defeat, felt hard done by, again.
"Frustration is the overwhelming emotion we're feeling," he said. "In the last six or seven games, we've arguably been the better team yet we've picked up only one win. Spurs were hanging on at the end We just needed that modicum of luck. We are in a position that I feel is totally false."
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