Fulham lose but fight returns

Posted by Phil Mison

Olly Greenwood/AFP/Getty ImagesAshkan Dejagah's thrilling strike gave Fulham an early second half lead over Tottenham.

The Whites raised their game for the new manager to levels not seen in weeks, but it was still not enough to stave off a sixth successive defeat on a bitter night at the Cottage. A vastly expensive Tottenham side looks to be little more than mid-table fodder, while Fulham must struggle on till January with a team short of quality and lacking depth.

- Report: Fulham 1-2 Tottenham
- Delaney: Signs of life from Spurs, Fulham

Spurs' rather fortuitous victory came courtesy of one improvised daisy cutter from range through a crowded penalty area and a wonder strike out of the blue that found the top corner. Both goals came in the final quarter of a game Fulham led following a thrilling strike from Ashkan Dejagah early into the second half. As this blog predicted, it was a night which could with arguable logic have produced any of three results.

That the Whites trooped off with nothing was hard to take. And the 2-1 loss makes the climb from the relegation places that much harder of course. But Rene Meulensteen saw plenty of positives to take from the game. This time, unlike his predecessor, the fans agreed with him.

Those of us on the Hammy End rose to salute the lads at the final whistle. We knew what we had witnessed. The support was loud and unanimous, the mood cautiously optimistic.

For his first game in charge, Meulensteen gambled on old legs but players big on character and experience. Giorgos Karagounis was handed a start and the 37-year-old proved outstanding for an hour. The Greek led by example. Mentally Kara reads a game and puts himself in positions beyond lesser lights in the current squad. His intelligence and tenacity more than compensate for the ravages of time.

Fulham led 1-0 as he trotted off after an hour to be replaced by Steve Sidwell. Thiry minutes later, with Pajtim Kasami volleying against the post on Fulham's last attack, the whistle blew and the victors celebrated as if they'd won the FA Cup. Clear signs Spurs and their manager have been feeling the pressure.

Where this game was won and lost was in the final half hour. Fulham's "impact subs" were Sidwell, Damien Duff and Bryan Ruiz. I leave you to draw on the significance of that. In truth, Meulensteen was left with few options. There were no back-up strikers on the bench -- prodigy Moussa Dembele, Hugo Rodallega and Darren Bent being all unfit.

Captain Brede Hangeland did not return, but a re-called Philippe Senderos played with real heart and by and large nullified the threat of Jermain Defoe. And there was a surprise recall for want-away John-Arne Riise. He, like Karagounis, responded to the call from the new boss and turned in a reasonable performance, though a few tired clearances marred his display late on.

But the revelation of the night was to see a re-energized Dimitar Berbatov putting himself about the pitch and prepared to put in a shift for Meulensteen. Unlucky not to score himself, he conjured up a peach of a pass that gave Dejagah the space to drill an immaculate strike across the keeper into the far corner. The "Warrior" soaked up the applause behind the net as we saluted his first senior goal for the club (finally!).

Sadly, it was to prove not quite enough. We still have a mountain to climb, but all Fulhamites can take pride in this performance.

The pundits believe Fulham have more quality than the strugglers around them. I agree. Scott Parker is the ideal captain. Berbatov can choose to either apply himself to Meulensteen's fresh team ethic (and he surely must know how to handle this complex character) or he can shove off. New blood will arrive in January, and I sense the new management team will be working the Manchester United connection to the hilt -- no bad thing.

If I had one caveat from this one, it would be to question why was Derek Boateng not pushed on to replace Kara? Being brutal -- for that is what football at this level is -- I maintain our club cannot move forward while waiting on Sidwell and Ruiz to deliver. They are not game-changers.

Having not taken a point since winning at Palace, the feel good factor will dissipate instantly unless three points are taken off Aston Villa on Sunday. Here's to the next round in the battle. At last I'm looking forward to going back down to a game.

As Mickey Adams used to tell his players, "The train has left the station, do you want to be on board?"




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