Sport Soccer

Friday 15 December 2017

Holtby ruins Meulensteen's opening night at Fulham

Fulham 1 Tottenham 2

Lewis Holtby of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring their second goal
Lewis Holtby of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring their second goal

Jason Burt

Just when it seemed that Andre Villas-Boas had suffered a dagger – or rather a Dejagah – to the heart after Ashkan Dejagah's opening goal, back came Tottenham Hotspur to claim this vital victory.

It meant Rene Meulensteen's first game in charge of Fulham ended in defeat, a sixth in a row for the Cottagers, but there were positive signs that they can arrest their seemingly inevitable slide.

Where this leaves Spurs and Villas-Boas remains to be seen, but, for now, it propels them to sixth place and just three points outside the top four. The crisis should have nothing to do with league position, but Villas-Boas is clearly not happy.

With a typical drive, the recalled Jermain Defoe latched on to the first opportunity, after Fulham lost possession and Maarten Stekelenburg pushed away his shot while Dimitar Berbatov glanced a free-kick straight at Hugh Lloris and then took a heavy first-touch when put clear.

It was fast and loose and Spurs broke with Paulinho picking out Defoe with a superb, rangy flighted pass. Defoe cut inside to slide a pass to Erik Lamela – who slammed his first-time shot wide. Soon after the Argentinian forced an alert save from Stekelenburg.

THREATENED

By now Spurs were gaining a grip and Etienne Capoue cut back inside on the edge of the Fulham area only to slice his shot across goal.

Fulham threatened again with a Pajtim Kasami effort deflected over after Alex Kacaniklic had again caught out Kyle Walker.

After the break, Lewis Holtby released Aaron Lennon and his cross was met by Defoe – only for Philippe Senderos to block – and soon after the striker improvised with a back-heel, which was also blocked, only for the rebound to fall to Sandro whose crisp drive was diverted for a corner.

Then the breakthrough came and Fulham claimed it with Scott Parker stealing possession in midfield and feeding Berbatov who swung a cross-field pass into Dejagah's path. He controlled instantly and beat Lloris with a driven low shot.

Then Spurs won a corner. From it the ball was sliced out to Vlad Chiriches, who struck a volley that kissed a post on the way to rippling the net. Stekelenburg did not see it. Spurs were level.

But Fulham had not relented with Kacaniklic providing again, after another strong run down the left, and his low cross was met by Berbatov. His flick was heading goalwards only for Lloris to turn it away for yet another corner.

It proved vital. Spurs came back with Holtby taking possession and scampering infield before unleashing a left-foot drive that was too fierce for Stekelenburg. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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