Three Things: Tottenham vs. Fulham
LONDON -- Second-half goals from Harry Kane and Younes Kaboul pushed Tottenham to a big 3-1 home win vs. struggling Fulham. Here are three things from Saturday's early Premier League clash ...
1. Fulham's crosses to bear
Fulham's slide to the Championship is not yet inevitable but they must defend far better in their remaining three matches if there can be any chance of survival. Felix Magath's team had an initial look of organisation, only to become a blubbering wreck whenever Tottenham crossed the ball into their penalty area.
The damage was probably done some time ago, anyway -- it is a struggle to think of any team that has prospered when using three managers in a season -- but after last week's defeat of Norwich gave hope, this was a demoralising loss.
As when defeating Sunderland a fortnight ago, Spurs did not have to get out of first gear to brush aside a relegation contender. The home supporters still have plenty of beef with their team, and those who built it, but they look set fair for next season's Europa League. Manchester United may have to rely on an Arsenal FA Cup win and fourth place to qualify, as the Glazers are believed to desire. In North London, Tim Sherwood ended the game joking with fans, as he does when victory is assured.
Having gotten back into the game swiftly when Steve Sidwell canceled out Paulinho's opener, Fulham collapsed straight after halftime when Kane converted a rare left-footed cross from Aaron Lennon. Kaboul's clinching goal came from Christian Eriksen's wand of a left foot.
The Cottagers' carelessness continued when Sidwell's penalty was just at the right height for Hugo Lloris to save; Eriksen's inadvertent handball had given Fulham a lifeline that slipped from their fingers.
Despite winning here last season, and in style, this always looked the most difficult of Fulham's final four games. Three opponents with less to play for in Hull City (home), Stoke City (away) and Crystal Palace at the Cottage on Super-duper Sunday will determine their future. In the meantime, fingers must be crossed that other results go Fulham's way.
2. Fun-time Felix
Magath and Spurs assistant Steffen Freund enjoyed a lengthy lighthearted chat ahead of kickoff. Fulham's boss was wreathed in smiles again at the start of the second half. He is enjoying the fight, come what may.
Fulham's 2013-14 season is a case of what might have been. Had they turned to Magath, winner of three Bundesliga titles, rather than underqualified Rene Meulensteen in November, then the Cottagers' chances of survival would have been better than they are.
The hope is that if relegation does result, Magath stays on. The suggestions are he rather likes London life. A man nicknamed "Saddam" in his own country enjoys the jolly boating surroundings at the club by the Thames. From the disorganised chaos of the Meulensteen regime to a well-drilled outfit, playing 3-5-2 and employing rather "route one" tactics, Magath's team at least had structure, even if mistakes here let the manager down. Hugo Rodallega's early skew was comedic, his blushes only spared by the ball not going off for a throw-in. Sidwell's penalty attempt was poorly struck, betraying the nerves of the situation.
Magath was not a constant presence on the sidelines. Only at dead-ball situations did he stand, and when Paulinho scored an easy tap-in on 35 minutes from such an occasion, there was no withering rebuke -- just a trudge back to his seat hinting at resignation. The same happened when Kane scored at the start of the second half. Fulham players can rest assured that their back-breaking drills this week will contain defending the crossed ball.
3. Not earning their Spurs
Sherwood suggested this week that he has suffered from having a squad that was too much of a muchness in terms of quality. He suggested that only Lloris, Eriksen and Emmanuel Adebayor are in any way "top drawer." And none are Gareth Bale, whose midweek solo goal in the Copa del Rey final brought pangs of loss to Spurs fans.
Here, Sherwood's chosen ones looked like reasonable judgments. Lloris, who also made a fine second-half save against Rodallega, has had a much worse season than his previous campaign, though an ever-changing and under-par defence has not helped his cause. Eriksen's excellence continues, even when being placed out wide rather than through the centre, where his gifts can take yet greater prominence. His free-kick cross for Paulinho's goal was what old pros call "unplayable." Kaboul's goal also came from the Dane's rich supply. Sherwood's tactic with Adebayor seems to involve saying so many nice things as to make him believe he is one of the best. It has worked, too, though it has led to the Togolese striker attempting to be too involved. As one fan pointed out to Sherwood in rather Anglo-Saxon terms, a striker is little use receiving the ball off the centre-backs and especially when he loses the ball.
That central defence is problematic -- the "worst ever," according to Graham Roberts, the combative captain when Spurs won the UEFA Cup in 1984. Kaboul is not yet the player he was before the serious knee injury that robbed him of the entire 2012-13 campaign. His partner, Zeki Fryers, was the subject of an almighty row between Tottenham and Manchester United when the defender arrived at the Lane via a short stay at Standard Liege, a move described by Sir Alex Ferguson as a "Daniel Levy deal" (not a compliment).
Making just his third start of the season, Fryers has bulked up considerably since leaving Belgium. Perhaps he dines at the type of places his name suggests, though weight training would seem to be a more likely reason for his increased stature. His fourth appearance may be a while away.
Both Fryers and Kaboul were culpable in Sidwell's solo goal. Each missed tackles on the unlikely dribbler before Kyle Naughton did so, too. Sherwood's rage was not contained. Naughton is another with a large question mark against his name. In truth, though, there are many candidates beyond Sherwood's chosen trio.