Crouch 27, Bentley 60
The odds were stacked against an injury-hit Fulham side, making the short hop across the capital to face Tottenham and it proved to be a fairly comfortable night for the home side. The north London side came out of the traps like a team possessed, playing with a high tempo and immediately forcing two saves from Fulham stopper Mark Schwarzer. The first goal arrived after 27 minutes when a left-footed looping cross from David Bentley was not dealt with, firstly by Schwarzer – misjudging his claim – then by Bjorn Helge Riise who allowed the tenacious Luka Modric to steal the ball when attempting to shepherd it out of play just to the left of the goal. Modric quickly found Peter Crouch who finished from close range, making it double figures for the season for the lanky striker.
Tottenham’s success or failure this season could well depend on just how strong their much vaunted squad is. With the talismanic Aaron Lennon out and Niko Kranjcar being sidelined shortly before the game, Bentley ably deputized on the right side of midfield. What he lacks in pace he can make up for with his deliveries from both of his left and right feet. With Vedran Corluka making attacking runs ahead of him, Bentley was able to find space deep in midfield, often cutting inside on to his left foot and providing a steady supply to Tottenham’s front players. It was the No 5’s expertise with the dead ball that sealed Tottenham’s win, although his powerfully struck free-kick did take a wicked deflection off the head of Riise.
Another major performer in Spurs’ win was Gareth Bale, in for the injured Benoit Assou-Ekotto. The Welsh left-back finally got a fairly significant monkey off his back, this being his first start in a league win for the north Londoners. Bale constantly looked threatening from the left, giving makeshift right-back Aaron Hughes a torrid time. It was one of his numerous incisive runs that led to the second half free-kick in which Bentley scored his – albeit fortuitous – deflected free-kick.
As for Fulham, they disappointed throughout, failing to put pressure on a Spurs side far from its best. Bobby Zamora often looked isolated up front and without their two athletic full-backs, the threat from the wing was often neutralised with ease. They set up as usual to play a rigid 4-4-2, with Zoltan Gera dropping back to often make a midfield five and aimed to restrict the home side’s space. They offered little going forward, but did manage to restrict their opponent’s chances with committed defending from Brede Hangeland and Chris Smalling. However, such an approach needs to be error free, and two first half mistakes in the space of five seconds proved to be the Cottagers’ undoing. It also needs a fair amount of luck, which deserted Roy Hodgon’s side and particularly Riise as Bentley’s free kick ricochet in off him.