After 13 Premier League, London derbies without so much as a point to call our own, Fulham left Tottenham Hotspur Stadium perhaps ruing a missed opportunity to take all three. But a few moments of indecision should not cloud what was a very creditable performance from Scott Parker’s team. After two days of build-up, centred on whether The Whites were within their rights to feel aggrieved at the late nature of the fixture rescheduling, a team short on training and match practice competed with and then outplayed the top-four contenders from North London.
What stood out in the north-east of the capital, was that this was not just an organised display, based on counter-attacking football. The Cottagers took the initiative and pressured a side with, what has to be considered, a superior group of individuals. Tottenham will certainly be disappointed with their own display, failing to prevent Parker’s team seizing the initiative in the second half, something that has also happened in fixtures against Crystal Palace and Wolves this season. But that can not take away from a display that every Fulham fan will want to see repeated as the season continues at breakneck speed.
From back to front, the Cottagers showed their quality and tenacity. Harrison Reed typically buzzing around any 50/50 and even 60/40 balls in the centre of the park, disrupting the Spurs midfield. Ruben Loftus-Cheek offered an option higher up the pitch and making the ball stick, before distributing to the tireless Antonee Robinson and Kenny Tete. A performance that many fans in West London have been waiting to see from the Chelsea loanee who hasn’t quite lived up to expectation as yet. If we see more performances of this ilk, it will be hard to be disappointed with the England international.
Ivan Cavaleiro continues his steady improvement and capped it with a brilliantly taken goal to end a spell of 367 days without scoring from open play. He seems to be a confidence player, and this goal may be the moment that brings him back to the level he is capable of. He certainly appeared to gain a yard of pace and inch in height following his equaliser. if he can be a more clinical player in those crucial moments, the desperation for attacking reinforcements may lessen, though it will not disappear.
At the opposite end of the pitch, it has become so common now, that it is easy to take solid defensive displays from Fulham’s back line for granted. And While Spurs threatened on a few occasions, it is no coincidence that Harry Kane had the least number of touches of any outfield player. On the occasions that Jose Mourinho’s attack-shy charges did breach the yellow wall, Alphonse Areola once again demonstrated his world-class credentials. Two stops in the first half were as responsible for the deserved point as anything else.
It took a goal of real quality to beat the Frenchman, in a first half that Spurs shaded, but certainly did not dominate. Any dominance in the game was had by the visitors, as the second half became a demonstration of good build-up play even if there is still a noticeable lack of a true focal point in the Fulham attack.
When the line-ups were released, I would imagine many a Fulham fan was relieved. With medical confidentiality reducing any knowledge of the players afflicted by Covid-19 ahead of the original date for this fixture to rumour and innuendo, it was settling to see so many of the recognised 1st XI on the team sheet. Even with Lookman only available from the bench, it was far from the worst-case scenario. The only questions could be, how well will they last the 90. Any reservations were unfounded, as no one visibly faded as the game wore on.
But it was the introduction of Ademola Lookman that led to the deserved equaliser after his clever feet and decisive delivery gave Cavaleiro the opportunity to impact the scoreline, which he duly did with a praise-worthy header. Lookman’s importance to Fulham as an attacking threat cannot be understated. He is a wildcard that opposition defenders hate to see, and he marries his unpredictability with undeniable quality. Having failed to carve out many clear goal-scoring opportunities before his introduction, Lookman assisted Fulham’s goal and almost set up a winner. Unfortunately, his ball through to Loftus-Cheek was slightly too heavy, allowing Hugo Lloris to smother the opportunity just enough for Tottenham to clear.
As noted above, there is still a need for a focal point to fit the still, new system Parker has implemented. Cavaleiro continues to demonstrate admirable work-rate and has now been rewarded with his goal, but the potential of bringing him off of the bench, rather than the physically gifted, but less technically adept, Aboubakar Kamara could provide Fulham with even more of a threat, provided of course the incoming incumbent of the centre-forward position proves to be the upgrade The Whites will certainly be looking for during the current transfer window.
While goals remain at a premium, there is enough evidence that this team is capable of returning from the abyss they appeared to be heading to in October. Performances of this level and authority will surely see a good return of points regardless if opposition. The next two fixtures will be challenging, but on the back of this result, alongside the displays seen against Liverpool and in Leicester, there is no reason to believe that there are no points to be taken from Chelsea and Manchester United. Both of the upcoming opponents have shown themselves to have vulnerabilities this season. It will be up to Parker and his staff to find the best way to exploit those.
The London derby hoodoo has finally been broken, just in time for the visit of that team in blue.