Away day blues
Fulham 1-1 Tottenham HotspurIt has been a case of one step forward and two steps back for Tottenham Hotspur this season.
While Martin Jol's men came to Craven Cottage with a place in the Carling Cup semi-finals assured, not to mention a spot in the FA Cup fourth round and probable qualification to the last 16 of the UEFA Cup, you can't help but feel they have missed the boat this season.
Having come within 90 minutes of Champions League football last season, progress this term would have been a top four finish, but a woeful record away from home and an inability to string performances together has seen Spurs drop back among the Premiership's mid-table no-hopers, even though they have some of England's most gifted stars on their books.
After being given the sort of financial backing most of his rivals could only dream about, Dutch boss Jol has had more than long enough to find a winning formula in his talent laden squad, yet he has conclusively failed in that mission.
Soccernet's Insider was at White Hart Lane to witness their spirited and impressive victory against Chelsea a couple of months back, yet Tottenham have failed to use that triumph as a springboard for the rest of the campaign.
Glorious performances have often been followed by woeful displays a week later and if 2007 was to be a year when Tottenham fulfilled their potential, this was the sort of game they needed to collect maximum points in. Instead, they set about their task with the sort of lazy approach that has marred so many of their away day efforts this season.
Jol's decision to start this game with Robbie Keane and Aaron Lennon on the bench did little to dispel the theory that the Tottenham boss is more than content to collect a solitary point away from home rather than go for the maximum return, yet they were fortunate to avoid defeat against a Fulham side who showed more drive and commitment throughout.
The impressive Brian McBride led their line superbly and while Tottenham's centre-back pairing of Michael Dawson and Anthony Gardner undoubtedly have plenty of potential, their inexperience is exposed at regular intervals. Didier Zokora and Hossam Ghaly continue to disappoint in the midfield, as does Jermain Defoe, who is rapidly looking like a striker destined not to live up to his high profile reputation.
Tottenham relied on keeper Paul Robinson to keep them on level terms in the first half and even after Heidar Helguson was sent off seven minutes into the second half, the visitors showed no willingness to claim the points on offer.
When Fulham were awarded a late penalty after Dawson was adjudged to have handled McBride's 81st minute shot in the box, Vincenzo Montella's successful penalty appeared to condemn Tottenham to a defeat their hapless performance merited.
The goal appeared to spark them into life a little, but it was still a surprise to see them snatch an equaliser their disappointing display barely deserved. Even Jol admits he is bewildered by their lack of form on their travels.
'We seem to create 15 or 20 chances in every game at White Hart Lane, but we are a different team in away matches,' he conceded. 'Fulham are a tough side to play against, but we didn't do enough to open them up. People may look at this and say we should have beaten them because they only had ten men, but they lost one of their strikers and that didn't really affect the tactics they employed.
'From my perspective, I felt we did a little better against a side playing with a physical plan that has caused us a lot of problems in the past, but you need to do a bit more in the attacking third to win this kind of game.'
If Tottenham are bottom of the achievement class this season, then Fulham would deserve the gold medal in the same school. Injuries to key men and the loss of star names like Luis Boa Morte have not halted their consistent form, especially here at Craven Cottage and manager Chris Coleman can take much of their credit for their success.
Employing a style that may not be pleasing on the eye, but makes them a tough nut to crack, Brian McBride and Michael Brown are the heartbeat of a side that continues to match opponents with much greater financial potential.
Coleman had every right to feel content with his lot even though he admitted the concession of the late equaliser was tough to take. 'Chimbonda was clearly in an offside position and I cannot understand why the linesman didn't stick his flag up,' he added.
'Apparently, there is a suggestion that the final touch on the cross came off one of my defenders, but if the officials spotted that slight touch then they must be supermen. To concede such a late goal is hard to take, but I can't fault that performance with 10 men.
'Still, I have looked on the TV replay and we may have been fortunate to get the penalty as the shot may have hit Dawson on the shoulder. I hope the officials didn't just try and even things up.'
A trip to Fulham's quaint and traditional home always feels like a journey into a different era of the game. Spoiled as we are by magnificent theatres such as Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and the Emirates Stadium, the never ending stroll from Putney Bridge tube station to Craven Cottage stadium is almost nostalgic.
With single tier stands still in place and a modest fan base, Fulham are never likely to establish themselves as serious challengers for a top four spot in the Premiership, yet they are a shining example of a side realising their full potential. Forced to sell his best players on a regular basis, manager Chris Coleman has done a fine job in stabilising Fulham in the top flight and they seem to revel in days such as this.
As for Tottenham, they seem to shrink when the pressure is applied and Martin Jol is charged with the task of putting that flaw in their make-up right very quickly.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Brian McBride
This was a game lacking a cutting edge, but the big American hit-man did his best to produce the decisive moment as he tested Paul Robinson on more than one occasion.
FOOD WATCH: Due to the fact that Putney Bridge tube station seemed closer to Tottenham than Fulham, Soccernet's Insider had to go hungry before kick-off. The half-time chicken pie left a lot to be desired!
DIDI GOING STRONG: Veteran wig-wearing DJ 'Didi' David Hamilton is still doing a great job as Fulham's PA announcer.
TOTTENHAM VERDICT: They continue to flatter to deceive and frustrate their supporters to boot. Lucky to get out of Craven Cottage with a point, they will need to improve if they are to beat Arsenal's kids in the Carling Cup on Wednesday night.