EPL: Tottenham punish sloppy Fulham to go top of the Premier League

Tottenham 2-1 Fulham: Spurs hold to on to claim fourth win

What has happened to Tottenham? Before kick-off the sense was that it would be so very Spursy for them to blow this one. By the time it was over, though, they were daring to dream after punishing a nightmarish defensive display from Calvin Bassey and returning to the Premier League’s summit with a display that left an unambitious Fulham grateful it only finished 2-0.

Ange Postecoglou can do no wrong at the moment. Spurs are a team transformed under the Australian and, setting aside concerns over lack of depth, it may not be long before they are viewed as genuine title challengers. Respectful opponents will see the sparkling goalscoring form of James Maddison and Son Heung-min, plus the confident defending of Micky van de Ven, and know they will be in for a horrible test when they face Postecoglou’s Spurs.

If there has been a question hanging over Spurs it has been about their ability to deal with sides prepared to sit back and absorb pressure. There is no Harry Kane to unlock tight games, though Postecoglou has been finding other ways to score. So far the vibe has been of a team pushing from every angle, the football quick and intuitive, the full-backs tucking in to support the midfield, and the sight of Spurs rediscovering their attacking traditions has made the negativity of the Antonio Conte and José Mourinho eras feel like something from another lifetime.

Roared on by a buoyant home crowd, the shift in the mood was hard to miss as Spurs threatened to overwhelm Fulham during the opening stages. There was a chance inside two minutes, Maddison playing through Son to extend Bernd Leno, and there was little suggestion that the hosts would miss the suspended Yves Bissouma. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg stepped seamlessly into midfield and Spurs continued to dominate. Pedro Porro drew a desperate foul from Antonee Robinson after a surge from right-back and another opening went begging when a clever set piece ended with Van de Ven volleying over from close range after seven minutes.

When Bobby De Cordova-Reid bumped Maddison over, leaving Spurs’ chief creative threat most aggrieved, it was easy to interpret it as a sign of Fulham trying anything to make their presence felt. Yet while the visitors have lacked incision since selling Aleksandar Mitrovic, Marco Silva is a smart manager. Fulham soon adjusted and went close to taking a shock lead, Guglielmo Vicario pushing João Palhinha’s header away.

Spurs looked flummoxed for a while, the frustration building when Dejan Kulusevski teed up Richarlison to shoot wide. One of the qualities that sets good sides apart, however, is the ability to trust in the plan. For Spurs that meant keeping the foot on the accelerator and continuing to hold a high line, which is easier to pull off with the speedy Van de Ven in central defence.

The Dutchman has been a revelation since joining from Wolfsburg. His pace was on show when he raced across to stop Carlos Vinícius reaching a through-ball from Willian and his aggressive defending played a crucial role in Spurs going ahead in the 36th minute.

The goal arrived when Bassey tried to play out from the back and saw his pass intercepted by Van de Ven, who had advanced into Fulham’s half. The ball ran to Richarlison and Fulham were slow to recover. Son was alone in the centre and, found by Richarlison, the Spurs captain had time to swerve inside, beat a despairing challenge and bend a beautiful right-footed shot beyond Leno.

Son Heung-min is mobbed by his teammates after opening the scoring
Son Heung-min is mobbed by his teammates after opening the scoring. Photograph: Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

However, while Son’s composure underlined the belief running through Spurs, others were more wasteful. Kulusevski was most culpable, overelaborating when he was through on goal. The profligacy gave Fulham a chance to regroup and Silva, who was struggling to contain his fury with his side, reacted by replacing Vinícius and Andreas Pereira with Raúl Jiménez and Alex Iwobi at the start of the second half.

Ever so briefly there was a different feel, with Spurs a little tentative and Fulham trying to assert themselves. Sadly, though, the resistance only lasted nine minutes. Fulham were still in the game but they remained sloppy. Spurs targeted Bassey and they profited when they pushed the centre-back into a dead end on the right. This time a rushed clearance fell to Højbjerg and, from there, it was a straightforward task for Son to send Maddison through to open up his body and guide a low shot past Leno.

The only question was whether Fulham, who stay 13th, would concede again. There were more delightful touches from Maddison, who repeatedly bamboozled his markers with his deft footwork and subtle turns, but Postecoglou could also take satisfaction from his side’s determination to keep a clean sheet.

Destiny Udogie was a marvel at left-back and Cristian Romero, who put in some thunderous challenges, was assured next to Van de Ven. Spurs, who remain unbeaten, can dare to dream.