Monday papers

Monday 25 March 2002

From the Telegraph

It is said there are no easy games in the Premiership but Fulham are beginning to contradict that old adage. Tottenham were no more than mediocre, but that was enough to end their poor run and extend Fulham's misery.

This was Fulham's sixth consecutive League defeat, their worst run since April 1986, when they were bottom of the old Second Division.

Fulham, who meet Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-finals, would be guaranteed UEFA Cup football if they were to play Champions League-bound Arsenal in the final. By then, though, Fulham could be back in the First Division. Europe and relegation would be an ignominious double.

If Fulham play like this against Chelsea, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Eidur Gudjohnsen will have a field day. Yesterday's defeat leaves them just three points above the relegation zone and, while a speedy return to the Nationwide League seems unlikely, Jean Tigana - not to mention chairman and paymaster Mohamed Fayed - will be relieved to win the three games the manager feels are needed to ensure safety.

Maintaining their place among English football's elite was always Fulham's priority though, given the significant investment last summer, it has turned into a nondescript first Premiership season for the team from Craven Cottage.

Tottenham - no goals scored, 13 conceded and four defeats in their last four matches - were grateful to break their losing streak. "This was a big result for us," said Glenn Hoddle after his 50th game in charge."We had some of the good fortune that has deserted us in recent weeks."

The result was better than the performance. Darren Anderton fully justified his exclusion from the latest England squad, Christian Ziege's passing was uncharacteristically wasteful, while Steffen Iversen and Simon Davies both missed good chances.

It looked easier to score when Iversen was one-on-one with Edwin van der Sar and Hoddle said: "We should have had the game sewn up when Steffen was through."

The two goals Spurs did manage will hardly feature in any best-of videos. In fact their first, by Teddy Sheringham, would probably win the luckiest goal of the month competition.

Ziege's 28th minute free-kick clipped Sylvain Legwinski and hit Sheringham in the face. To the striker's surprise and delight, the ball went past a bemused Van der Sar for the Footballer of the Year's first League goal since Dec 3.

Three minutes later Fulham's defensive frailties were highlighted when they failed to deal with Ledley King's long cross-field pass to Sheringham. The ball bounced to Ziege whose shot - which was going wide - was parried by Van der Sar, leaving Gustavo Poyet the simple task of converting the rebound.

Fulham's two best opportunities came in the final quarter. After 71 minutes, Steve Marlet's header struck the inside of an upright before being cleared by Ben Thatcher and, with seven minutes remaining, Louis Saha had a shot well saved by Neil Sullivan.

This was the ninth time Fulham had failed to score in their last 17 League games. Fulham have no natural width and their best player, Steed Malbranque, was well marshalled by Spurs.

"For us the game only started in the second half," said Tigana. "We needed to change our attitude."

Tigana, one of the most stylish midfielders of his generation, wants Fulham to play as he did. "This is football, not rugby and I will never tell my players to kick the opponent," he said.

Worthy sentiments, but Fulham need a bit more bite and a touch of the devil in them, combining style and strength, skill and steel.

The Guardian

Jean Tigana must be nervously chewing through his toothpicks faster than normal. Not long ago the idea of Fulham slipping straight back to the First Division seemed ridiculous. Yesterday a sixth successive league defeat left them in a full-blown relegation struggle.
After losing to a hardworking but unspectacular Tottenham side who arrived on a miserable run of their own, Fulham sit three points clear of the drop zone. Their chairman Mohamed Al Fayed may wonder whether he is getting value for money on his £32m summer transfer investments.

A poor first-half display, during which Teddy Sheringham and Gus Poyet scored for Spurs, could not be rescued after the interval. Though they improved Fulham were largely laboured and vulnerable to counter-attacks. Typically, the chances they had were wasted and Fayed must wish it was possible to buy a goal.

Fulham could yet qualify for Europe by winning the FA Cup but it will be a hollow success if they lose their top-flight status. Their players once talked of reaching the Uefa Cup via the league and can hardly have envisaged this. Their final three matches - at home to Bolton and Leicester and away to Blackburn - look decisive. "It's very dangerous," said Tigana.

Spurs did not have to play well to end their sequence of four consecutive defeats. Sheringham's goal came from a fortuitous deflection at a free-kick and they rarely found much fluency. Yet their manager Glenn Hoddle was after points rather than plaudits and his delight was plain.

In the first half his team might have had more than their two goals in five minutes, and Steffen Iversen should have sealed matters shortly after half-time. Instead Spurs had to rely on improved defending, poor Fulham finishing and a post to survive. Ledley King and Anthony Gardner enhanced their reputations in a back four and Tim Sherwood provided important protection in front.

Fulham spent most of the second half on the attack but, as so often, there was little end product. It took them more than an hour to muster an effort on target and, although they had enough opportunities to have avoided defeat, only once was Neil Sullivan called upon to make a testing save.

Their problems continued despite fielding three strikers with Steed Malbranque in close support. At times this season Tigana's players have at least passed smoothly but the approach work frequently broke down here. All the same, Barry Hayles, Malbranque, Steve Marlet and Louis Saha wasted chances.

"It's not only today," Tigana said of the wayward finishing. "It's the problem this year. People say to me: 'You are unlucky.' We are not unlucky: we need to work more."

In the first half in particular Fulham waited for things to fall rather than making them happen. Saha remains frustratingly peripheral for all his talents and there was despondency among the fans at the finish.

One certainty is that Fulham will not change their style and try to scrap out of trouble. "I will never explain to my players to kick the opponent because that is not football," Tigana wrote in the programme.

Sheringham and Iversen might have scored before Sheringham ended his recent drought by heading in a Christian Ziege free-kick that deflected off Sylvain Legwinski. When Poyet pounced after Edwin van der Sar saved from Ziege it not only signalled defeat for Fulham but highlighted a defensive weakness.

Because Tigana plays with such a narrow midfield the full-backs get little protection. Spurs exploited that in the first half and Poyet's strike came after King found Ziege unmarked on the left flank.

Had Hayles headed in just before half-time Fulham might have recovered. But their efforts came no closer than Marlet's header against an upright from close range and Spurs might have had more on the break. For Tigana these are testing times.

The Times

If nothing else - and most Tottenham Hotspur fans would say there is nothing else - Spurs know they have the beating of Fulham. This was their third victory against Jean Tigana's side this season, and a result that puts Fulham's sustained FA Barclaycard Premiership status in doubt.

No wonder Tigana does not want to talk about the FA Cup - although there is no evidence that their forthcoming semi-final against Chelsea is a distraction. Fulham are playing exactly as they have all season. It is a measured, sometimes stylish, approach that yields few goals.

Tottenham too have had trouble scoring, conceding 13 and scoring none in their previous four fixtures, but two first-half goals in the space of three minutes from Teddy Sheringham and Gus Poyet wrapped up a much needed morale-boosting victory for Glenn Hoddle's team.

Tigana's vow that he does not want his players to ditch the style and slog aggressively for points has not cheered the supporters. Fewer than 16,000 attended this match, by far Fulham's smallest crowd for a game back in the Premiership.

They looked too good to return straight back to the Nationwide League at the start of the season, but now that seems a plausible scenario. You can tell they are wondering about it at Craven Cottage. An announcement came over the public address system that the box office would be open for the sale of tickets for the home game against West Bromwich Albion. It was a Freudian slip. Fulham entertain West Ham United on Easter Monday.

It is a game that they need to win to stop the pressure becoming unbearable after six consecutive defeats in the league.

Tigana has never experienced six losses on the trot before. He said there were two solutions - "You can sack the manager or the players can change inside."

There seems little evidence that either will happen. Still, Tottenham fans were casting envious glances at the home supporters. Fulham could still qualify for Europe via the FA Cup.

Tigana has had a simple, uncomplicated run to the semi-final stage - in stark contrast to the finale that the league has in store.

Their home match against Bolton Wanderers might be more tense than any cup final.

Tottenham could, if they chose, see the tail end of European qualification in sight, but it would take a monumental effort after their recent poor run. "It's been a bit of a sticky wicket for the past couple of weeks," Hoddle, the Tottenham manager, said.

One minute they have a three-pronged attack on qualification for the Uefa Cup and then, in a blast of inefficiency, they find themsleves with a huge empty feeling.

So they greedily accepted the luck on offer at Craven Cottage. "Our major motivation was to get back to winning. It's something we've got to build on, where it takes us depends on how we build on this win," Hoddle said.

Spurs took the lead by virtue of a stroke of extreme good fortune. Sheringham, who had not scored a Premiership goal since December 3, managed to produce one courtesy of his chiselled cheekbones. A free kick from Christian Ziege struck the Fulham wall and the ball rebounded into the face of Sheringham. When your team has not managed to score in the previous four fixtures, a striker does not really care how they go in.

There was a small element of luck in Tottenham's second three minutes later. Ledley King, criticised by his manager in the past week for being at fault for the goal conceded against Charlton Athletic, spread the ball magnificently across the pitch to Steffen Iversen. Ziege then took control and fired a shot at Edwin van der Sar. The Fulham goalkeeper parried well but the ball fell kindly for Poyet.

It should really have been 3-0. A ball over the top from Anthony Gardner fooled the Fulham offside trap, leaving Iversen with a vast amount of space and what must have seemed like three weeks in which to beat the keeper. Iversen panicked and shot too early and without guile.

Fulham breathed a sigh of relief and improved. Steve Marlet revealed why Tigana splashed out £12 million for his services. He created several chances and was unfortunate to see a header hit the woodwork with the ball then cleared off the line by Ben Thatcher. A fierce strike from Louis Saha brought a fine save from Neil Sullivan. "People say to me that we are unlucky. We are not unlucky, we need to work more," Tigana said.

Even when disaster is looming, albeit far from imminent, Fulham cannot stop themselves from over-elaboration. A lofted ball in the first half from Sean Davis was met by Marlet and Saha tried a balletic twist instead of a good old-fashioned strike.

They are groaning at the Cottage. That kind of flair was overpowering in the First Division. In the relegation battle it is indulgent.

The Sun

Teddy Sheringham gave Fulham one in the eye as he ended a month of misery for Tottenham boss Glenn Hoddle.

The Spurs skipper scored his first league goal for 16 weeks and ended a nightmare run which had seen his side lose the Worthington Cup final, get ditched from the FA Cup and slip down the table.

Sheri knew little about his lucky 30th-minute strike which plunged Jean Tigana's boys deep into the relegation dogfight - but he milked the applause just the same.

Contrast his hero status among Tottenham supporters to that of Fulham's players, who were booed off at half-time. Their groans echoed around Craven Cottage when Uruguayan Gus Poyet hit the target two minutes after Sheringham.

Those fans have witnessed Fulham lose their last six league games as they have tumbled from mid-table comfort to this latest pitiful performance.

It is a worrying run that puts the Cottagers just three points above the drop zone after wins for relegation rivals Middlesbrough, Everton and Bolton this weekend.

You have to turn the clock back to 1986 for the last time Fulham lost half a dozen consecutive league games.

Their suffering fans will not need reminding that the Cottagers slipped miserably into the old Second Division way back then and now there are just seven games remaining to hold on to their Premiership status.

Even the tannoy man fears the worst and he announced tickets would go on sale after the game for their next home game against West Brom!

He meant West Ham, of course, but even then he was being optimistic that tickets would sell on the back of this below-par display.

The obvious problem for Tigana is that too many of his imports are under-achieving.

He is now gripped by the worst crisis of his managerial career and he is simply not getting the effort and commitment needed to survive in a cut-throat division.

Steve Marlet arrived with the reputation as a big-occasion player. But he flatters to deceive and it is incredible to think he has kept Liverpool's Nicolas Anelka out of the France side.

Louis Saha has lost the drive and penetration which saw him grab 30 goals in Division One last term.

To be brutally honest, the dancing girls provided more entertainment and probably more effort during the half-time interval than Fulham did in the first 45 minutes.

The home side's best efforts were a header from Marlet that slapped the post and a shot from Steed Malbranque which flew over the bar.

At the back it gets worse where Abdes Ouaddou was constantly done for pace by Christian Ziege.

What is needed at this stage of the season is a bit of old fashioned up and at 'em.

One of the few to roll up his sleeves and get stuck in was striker Barry Hayles - but the jury is out on whether he is good enough for a sustained career in the top flight. In football you make your own luck and Spurs enjoyed it by the shed-load after their own miserable last four games, where they had conceded 13 without reply.

Sheringham, back after a slight groin strain, gratefully accepted his first-half gift. Christian Ziege's ferocious free-kick took a deflection off Sylvain Legwinski in the wall, hit Sheri in the face and flew past keeper Edwin van der Sar.

Tottenham's second was another plucked from the lucky drawer with Gus Poyet in the right place at the right time to drive home his 13th goal of the season after Van der Sar brilliantly denied Ziege.

And Ben Thatcher's goal-line clearance after Marlet hit the post from Alain Goma's cross simply underlined just how much Tottenham's luck was in. But for the brilliance of Fulham keeper Van der Sar, the scale of the defeat and the inevitable inquest would have been much heavier.

The Dutchman stood his ground confidently in the 71st minute and forced Steffen Iversen to hammer a right-foot drive wide.

It could have been a significant moment in turning the game around - it should have signalled a fightback.

Instead, Fulham fans got more of what they are becoming increasingly used to...not a lot.