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Tottenham 0-1 Fulham Prem29 1213 The Guardian

last updated Tuesday 19th March 2013, 11:50 AM
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David Hytner at The Guardian

Tottenham (0) 0 Fulham (0) 1

André Villas-Boas had insisted it would be different this time. His man-management and squad rotation during his debut season at Tottenham Hotspur has had an eye on preparing the club to stay the course, rather than run aground in the final months, as they had done in the past two campaigns under Harry Redknapp. This, however, was a third consecutive defeat for the first time on Villas-Boas's watch and it escaped the attention of nobody in the home seats that the blip's timing was eerily familiar.

That the damage was inflicted by Dimitar Berbatov, the club's one-time strutting icon, was an irritating footnote for them while Fulham's victory tasted particularly sweet for the manager Martin Jol, another former White Hart Lane employee, who had previously experienced only defeat at Tottenham's hands. Fulham's first success over their cross-town rivals in 10 years deepened their small patch of purple - they have taken 11 points from an available 18 - and their Premier League survival looks odds-on.

There was levity, unsurprisingly, about Jol. "You hope for a point beforehand but Berbatov promised me . he said: 'You have to trust me.' I thought he was joking but he said it before the Stoke game last month, when he scored the winner. The only thing he wants is a day off if he scores. I promised him a day off and he scores. He's a remarkable boy."

The mood was more sombre in the Tottenham dressing-room. This is not a crisis for them and Villas-Boas was a snapshot in unflustered cool afterwards, even as he accepted that the situation had become "difficult". Yet there was not much to like about his team's one-paced performance, which sorely wanted for cutting edge in the final third and Villas-Boas admitted that they could not ignore the lessons of recent history. The international break will be a time to regroup and search souls.

"You can't hide from what has happened in the past at Spurs," Villas-Boas said. "We just have to make sure that we are able to fight against what was previously written. If we are able to find our form or confidence and win, then we can end the cycle that Spurs normally have. I am confident we will."

Villas-Boas had started with five of the players who had played the 120 minutes of last Thursday's Europa League defeat against Internazionale at San Siro and four who had not featured at all as he sought the blend to respond to Arsenal's victory at Swansea City on Saturday. Tottenham could feel their rivals' breath on their necks at kick-off time and it is hotter still now.

The manager insisted that the exertions against Inter had not negatively influenced the performance due to the fresh legs on show but there was a flatness about Tottenham, even if the afternoon might have taken a different tone if Gareth Bale's athletically flicked header from Gylfi Sigurdsson's corner had not been cleared off the line by Sascha Riether in the fifth minute.

Jol did not profess to be happy with the first half but nobody could have been. The passing was so dreadful that it felt fitting this was a league fixture taking place on Sunday and the half-time whistle came both as a relief and highlight.

Dimitar Berbatov, right, celebrates with Damien Duff after scoring the first goal for Fulham at Tottenham. Photograph: Tony O'Brien/Action Images Berbatov mixed a few sublime touches with ridiculous misunderstandings with his team-mates, and followed the latter with his pitying death stare, as frustration and, indeed, apathy was the theme. Bale twisted his right ankle but he was able to resume.

The second period, though, was better and the goal came when Ashkan Dejagah surged forward before releasing Riether, whose low cross was turned home by Berbatov. Dejagah ran to celebrate with Riether, rather than Berbatov, presumably having tired of the Bulgarian's posturing in his direction.

Being Berbatov's Fulham team-mate cannot be easy, unless you are Bryan Ruiz, but the striker's fourth goal in five games and 11th of the Premier League season had soothing properties.

"Berbatov looks like he's sulking and sometimes his body language is not great but it's not against his team-mates," Jol said. "He gets disappointed in himself. I've spoken about this and it's important that we get an understanding of this."

Brede Hangeland missed a free header for 2-0 and after the Tottenham substitute Jermain Defoe had shot at Mark Schwarzer, Dejagah spurned a fine late chance. Defoe almost made Fulham pay, only for Schwarzer to deny him in injury-time with an outstanding reflex save. Tottenham have a fresh worry line.

Man of the match Sascha Riether (Fulham)

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