A lucky break finally falls Spurs' way

Posted by John Crace

With just 18 minutes to play Wednesday at Craven Cottage and Spurs 1-0 down, a sense of crisis was not far off. Tottenham, who had not managed an equaliser all season, appeared to have run out of ideas.

Passes were going either astray or sideways and the players looked confused and tentative. The away fans were begging their side to "attack, attack, attack," yet still they held back.

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Then came yet another corner from Kyle Walker that failed to beat the first defender. He must practise them; no one could be so consistently poor at them otherwise. This time, though, the ball flew out to Vlad Chiriches, whose speculative shot somehow evaded everyone -- including the unsighted Fulham goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg -- and crept in the corner.

A Fulham side that had begun to look composed -- confident even -- were rocked and their self-doubt returned. Spurs suddenly sensed the game was there for the taking and Lewis Holtby fired home his first Premier League goal from the edge of the box after a neat interchange with Walker.

Spurs nearly made it three when a header from Nacer Chadli, who came on as a second-half substitute for Sandro, went just over the bar, but it was Hugo Lloris who made sure of the three points with two late world-class saves on Bryan Ruiz and Ashkan Dejagah. Somehow Spurs had gotten themselves a get-out-of-jail card with a 2-1 win, their first in the league since October. Crisis averted.

Sometimes a team gets a win it doesn't really deserve. This was such a game. Andre Villas-Boas may have changed the personnel, with Etienne Capoue, Erik Lamela and Jermain Defoe coming in for Mousa Dembele, Chadli and Roberto Soldado, but all the familiar problems were still there.

No matter whom AVB picks, his teams always seem to play the same way. Which is to say there is still little fluency or confidence to this side. They are playing with fear, almost expecting to make mistakes and chances not to be taken.

Defoe almost settled the early nerves with a long-range shot that was pushed around the post. But it was the former Spurs man Dimitar Berbatov who came closest to opening the scoring with a close-range flick that was superbly saved by Lloris. The French international may have been to blame for Manchester City's first two goals a couple of weeks ago, but he was Spurs' man of the match against Fulham. Without him, Spurs would have been dead and buried long before Chiriches gave them a sniff of a comeback.

Paulinho carved a great opening for himself, only to blaze over the bar with the goal at his mercy, and Lamela also hit a fiercely struck ball before the interval, but a goal-less first half was a fair reflection of both teams' performance. As is so often the case, Spurs had plenty of possession but little speed or penetration, while Fulham, despite the almost inevitable "new manager bounce" after Martin Jol's sacking at the weekend, seemed more intent on nullifying Spurs than creating much for themselves.

At the interval, AVB replaced the ineffectual Capoue with Holtby and Spurs immediately looked more threatening. But then a bad error from Michael Dawson in the 56th minute gifted the ball to Berbatov. He fired a perfect cross ball to Dejagah, whose precise finish gave Lloris no chance. It looked as if Spurs might implode.

AVB's rigid system began to look more and more like disordered chaos. No one was running into gaps and no one really seemed to want the ball. Heads and energy levels went down. Quite apart from not being able to play the out-of-form players into form, the team was now beginning to play its in-form players out of form.

The usually reliable Jan Vertonghen looks more and more uncomfortable at left back with every game he is asked to play there. The sooner Danny Rose returns and the Belgian can join Chiriches in the centre of the defence, the better.

Then came the Chiriches lifeline. The joy and relief on the faces of players and manager at the final whistle was marked. Sometimes a team's confidence returns when it rediscovers its silkiness. Sometimes it returns when it rediscovers a bit of undeserved luck. Wednesday, Spurs got that luck. It's now up to them to capitalise on it. Bottom-of-the-table Sunderland lie in wait on Saturday. Put together back-to-back away wins, and a corner might just have been turned.


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