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Fulham flounder - The Guardian

last updated Monday 25th March 2002, 9:33 AM
Fulham (0) 0-2 (0) Tottenham
Fulham Manager Jean Tigana must be nervously chewing through his toothpicks faster than normal. Not long ago the idea of Fulham slipping straight back to the First Division seemed ridiculous. Yesterday a sixth successive league defeat left them in a full-blown relegation struggle.

Fulham striker Barry Hayles
Fulham striker Barry Hayles Hayles went close with a header just before half-time
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After losing to a hardworking but unspectacular Tottenham side who arrived on a miserable run of their own, Fulham sit three points clear of the drop zone. Their chairman Mohamed Al Fayed may wonder whether he is getting value for money on his £32m summer transfer investments.

A poor first-half display, during which Teddy Sheringham and Gus Poyet scored for Spurs, could not be rescued after the interval. Though they improved Fulham were largely laboured and vulnerable to counter-attacks. Typically, the chances they had were wasted and Fayed must wish it was possible to buy a goal.

Fulham could yet qualify for Europe by winning the FA Cup but it will be a hollow success if they lose their top-flight status. Their players once talked of reaching the Uefa Cup via the league and can hardly have envisaged this. Their final three matches - at home to Bolton and Leicester and away to Blackburn - look decisive. "It's very dangerous," said Tigana.

Spurs did not have to play well to end their sequence of four consecutive defeats. Sheringham's goal came from a fortuitous deflection at a free-kick and they rarely found much fluency. Yet their manager Glenn Hoddle was after points rather than plaudits and his delight was plain.

In the first half his team might have had more than their two goals in five minutes, and Steffen Iversen should have sealed matters shortly after half-time. Instead Spurs had to rely on improved defending, poor Fulham finishing and a post to survive. Ledley King and Anthony Gardner enhanced their reputations in a back four and Tim Sherwood provided important protection in front.

Fulham spent most of the second half on the attack but, as so often, there was little end product. It took them more than an hour to muster an effort on target and, although they had enough opportunities to have avoided defeat, only once was Neil Sullivan called upon to make a testing save.

Match Stats Fulham Spurs
Goal attempts 9 11
On Target 3 4
Blocked shots 3 2
Hit woodwork 1 0
Fouls 16 13
Offsides 1 1
Corners 4 6
Yellows 2 2
Reds 0 0
source: www.sports.com
Their problems continued despite fielding three strikers with Steed Malbranque in close support. At times this season Tigana's players have at least passed smoothly but the approach work frequently broke down here. All the same, Barry Hayles, Malbranque, Steve Marlet and Louis Saha wasted chances.

"It's not only today," Tigana said of the wayward finishing. "It's the problem this year. People say to me: 'You are unlucky.' We are not unlucky: we need to work more."

In the first half in particular Fulham waited for things to fall rather than making them happen. Saha remains frustratingly peripheral for all his talents and there was despondency among the fans at the finish.

One certainty is that Fulham will not change their style and try to scrap out of trouble. "I will never explain to my players to kick the opponent because that is not football," Tigana wrote in the programme.

Sheringham and Iversen might have scored before Sheringham ended his recent drought by heading in a Christian Ziege free-kick that deflected off Sylvain Legwinski. When Poyet pounced after Edwin van der Sar saved from Ziege it not only signalled defeat for Fulham but highlighted a defensive weakness.

Because Tigana plays with such a narrow midfield the full-backs get little protection. Spurs exploited that in the first half and Poyet's strike came after King found Ziege unmarked on the left flank.

Had Hayles headed in just before half-time Fulham might have recovered. But their efforts came no closer than Marlet's header against an upright from close range and Spurs might have had more on the break. For Tigana these are testing times.

Fulham: Van der Sar, Finnan, Goma, Ouaddou, Harley (Brevett 58), Malbranque, Legwinski, Davis, Hayles, Marlet, Saha.

Subs Not Used: Taylor, Melville, Collins, Boa Morte.

Booked: Malbranque(f, 65), Goma(f, 71).

Tottenham: Sullivan, Perry, King, Gardner, Thatcher, Anderton (Davies 75), Sherwood, Poyet, Ziege, Iversen, Sheringham.

Subs Not Used: Keller, Rebrov, Etherington, Thelwell.

Booked: Gardner, Sherwood.

Goals: Sheringham 28, Poyet 32.

Att: 15,885 Ref: P Durkin (Dorset).
Source The Guardian by Jon Brodkin
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