Tosin Adarabioyo’s 19th-minute own goal was enough to give Spurs back-to-back victories in the Premier League but they had a contentious VAR decision to thank for ruling out Josh Maja’s second-half equaliser.
Jose Mourinho’s side began the game with a mouthwatering attack but ended it clinging on, with Harry Kane booting the ball for touch from a free kick.
For the first time, Mourinho named a crowd-pleasing front four of Kane, Heung-min Son, Gareth Bale and Dele Alli, with Dele making his first League start since the opening day of the season, 172 days ago.
On paper at least it was an electrifying prospect, an attack brimming with invention and goals and made up of four of the club’s most popular players of the modern era.
The question: would ‘BASK’ or ‘SHAG’ work in reality? Inside 20 minutes, Spurs offered an answer.
Bale won the ball deep in his own half and found Dele, who quickly moved the ball wide to Son and darted into the box to flick the South Korean’s cross home.
It would have been his first goal in nearly a year – since the 1-1 draw at Burnley on March 7, 2020 in Spurs’ final game before the shutdown – but the final touch came off Adarabioyo and it was credited as an own goal.
Nonetheless, it was a big moment for Dele and for this newlook Spurs front four.
There were other moments, too, including Son’s cross from which Kane should really have scored and a brilliant pass by the England captain to release Dele.
As they work their way back to full fitness, Dele and Bale were hooked just after the hour, with Spurs having faded in the second half.
While the quartet were on the pitch, there were enough signs to suggest that Spurs’ dream front four can click in the way fans have hoped for, and Dele’s performance in particularly was encouraging.
He looked sharp and hungry, covering more ground than anyone else on the pitch while he was on, suggesting he is back to being the committed player Mourinho has been hoping for.
Worryingly familiar second half for Spurs
For all their attacking talent, the game played out in a worryingly familiar fashion for Spurs.
After shading the first half and playing on the front foot, with pressing forwards and a high defensive line, Spurs totally regressed after the interval.
They dropped deep and by the 55th-minute were defending like it was the 85th. It was no surprise when Maja fired home an equaliser, moments after hitting the post, and it was a huge let off for Spurs that it was disallowed by the VAR for a dubious handball in the build-up.
Spurs improved with the introductions of Lucas Moura, Moussa Sissoko and Erik Lamela, who helped them to gain a foothold in the final 10 minutes, but their second-half display mirrored so many other frustrating matches this season.
Ultimately, they were fortunate that this match did not turn out in exactly the same way as the 1-1 draw in Fulham’s visit to north London in January, not to mention the game against Crystal Palace and Wolves.
That said, this was an improvement on those matches and Spurs showed more defensive resilience with Davinson Sanchez and Toby Alderweireld at the back.
Nonetheless, this Spurs squad is built for playing on the front foot (unlike many of Mourinho’s great teams of the past), and defending a one-goal advantage feels a strategy fraught with risk going forward.
Fulham aggrieved but impressive
As for Fulham, this was an encouraging display from a well-coached side, who were left fuming at VAR Jarred Gillet’s decision to disallow Maja’s goal for a handball by Mario Lemina.
Davinson Sanchez’s poor clearance struck Lemin at waist height with his arm by his side and there was little the midfielder could have done differently in the circumstances.
The decisions denied Fulham a well-deserved equaliser and seem to knock the stuffing out of them, which was a shame given the way they had fought back fearlessly against Spurs’ star-studded side.
On this display, Parker’s side have enough to stay in the division but they are missing firepower, with Aleksandar Mitrovic offering little when he was introduced.