New signing Robbie Keane kicked his heels in frustration on the Tottenham bench as Fulham transformed a two-goal deficit into a memorable victory with a stirring second-half revival.
Having spent all summer desperately trawling Europe for a striker, Glenn Hoddle bizarrely chose to leave his £8 million capture in the dug-out as his side tamely capitulated at Loftus Road.
Even when Hoddle made his last throw of the dice, it was to Steffen Iversen that he turned as Les Ferdinand and Teddy Sheringham remained on the pitch.
Then again, he had rather more defensive worries on his mind by that time as his side, who had powered into a 2-0 half-time lead through Dean Richards and Teddy Sheringham, were under constant Fulham pressure.
Inspired by half-time substitute Steed Malbranque and driven forward remorselessly by the effervescent Sean Davis, Jean Tigana's side simply refused to give up.
Junichi Inamoto pulled a goal back with 22 minutes remaining and then, when Anthony Gardner was adjudged to have fouled Barry Hayles, Malbranque struck a penalty equaliser.
With Malbranque then hitting the winner deep into injury time, the limitations of Spurs' early title challenge were cruelly exposed.
While it was expected that Keane would start, Hoddle had evidently decided that Les Ferdinand and Sheringham deserved to keep their places up front after the club's promising start to the season.
Initially, his faith looked to be misguided as Ferdinand struck his first half-chance wide of the far post, headed the next over the bar and was then dispossessed in front of goal by Alain Goma.
However, the home side's early lack of cutting edge, with Louis Saha limping off, was matched by their defensive disarray in the absence of captain Andy Melville.
Tottenham duly took full advantage as Richards rose above Zat Knight to powerfully head home Acimovic's corner on 35 minutes.
Fulham's defence remained worryingly suspect thereafter and it was not long before Spurs' lead doubled with Fulham again only having themselves to blame following a weak clearance.
The ball was quickly returned to Ferdinand, who controlled it into the path of Matthew Etherington and his neat touch found Sheringham, who swept a shot home from 12 yards out.
Fulham lost the services of Luis Boa Morte and Spurs, with Etherington shooting just wide and the impressive Milenko Acimovic attempting a lob from the halfway line, looked set to make the game safe.
They certainly thought they had scored a third on 56 minutes only for Acimovic's powerful header to be ruled out for offside. However, Fulham started to rally and Tottenham were indebted to Keller, who produced a stunning one-handed save to parry Davis's long-range drive.
Keller also had to grasp Facundo Sava's close-range header after the striker was allowed too much space in the Spurs defence, while Ben Thatcher denied Sylvain Legwinski with a last-gasp sliding tackle.
The Fulham pressure was gradually increasing and although Hayles headed just wide, Inamoto managed to haul the home side back into contention with 22 minutes left.
Davis was the catalyst behind the move and when his shot was weakly blocked by Chris Perry, the Japanese international delivered a stinging shot back into the far corner.
That was the inspiration which Fulham desperately needed and while Finnan clipped the bar, Gardner tangled with Hayles inside the area.
Although referee Mike Halsey did not immediately point to the spot, he consulted his assistant before awarding a penalty with six minutes left.
Malbranque calmly planted his spot-kick to the right of Keller's desperate dive and still Hoddle did not introduce Keane, instead bringing Steffen Iversen onto the right flank for Etherington.
Tottenham were by now hanging on desperately for a point as Keller produced superb saves from Finnan and then Malbranque.
However, they were undone again in injury-time as Legwinski burst through the centre of their slipshod defence to beat Keller and claim a memorable victory.