It is safe to say Tottenham Hotspur have hauled themselves from that negative run of which Mauricio Pochettino had complained in midweek. This was an emphatic response to successive defeats, losses at Liverpool and Gent that had prompted clear-the-air meetings back at the team’s Enfield base, and a performance whose restorative effects may extend well beyond the pursuit of the FA Cup. Spurs continue to challenge on three fronts. As the manager insisted post-match, this was a reminder they are very much alive.
The fifth hat-trick of Harry Kane’s career carried them smoothly beyond Fulham, but it was a return of the collective verve that encouraged them. A team who had been so uncharacteristically lethargic over recent weeks have coaxed some effervescence back into their approach, zest typified by the displays of Kieran Trippier and Christian Eriksen down the right flank.
They spent the later stages gleefully playing keep-ball with the home side’s resistance long since shattered and Kane, his job done, putting his feet up in the dugout. The majority in the Putney end bellowed their familiar pledge to be Wembley bound, though they will hope to carry momentum into Thursday’s visit to the national stadium in the Europa League long before any prospective trip in the FA Cup.
That second leg against Gent will seem less daunting with the dominance of this display still fresh in their memories. “Their reaction from Thursday was fantastic,” Pochettino said. “After two defeats, many of the players wanted to play and didn’t feel tired. It was a great opportunity today to show we are alive, end that bad feeling and bring some confidence back. It was important for us.”
The rematch with the Belgian side, he insisted, is “a massive, massive game” his thoughts already drifting towards how to overwhelm Hein Vanhaezebrouck’s side. This will have provided clues, though Gent will surely prove more stubborn opponents than Slavisa Jokanovic’s Fulham.
The home side’s eagerness to impress ended up making them appear rather naive at times. There was always too much space for Spurs to exploit, too many inviting gaps in the home side’s defensive ranks, with Kevin McDonald unable to plug the holes alone. Fulham’s other midfielders were all attack-minded, their instincts forever to scuttle upfield rather than to suffocate or frustrate, and their diminutive forward line’s propensity to be caught offside infuriated the locals.
At times they were simply overrun, passes slipped easily between centre-halves, or inside full-backs for overlapping players to collect. Kane was the beneficiary, but Eriksen, Dele Alli and Son Heung-min all revelled in the ease of it all.
Spurs had needed this. Their scoreless run from open play had stretched well beyond six hours before they first exploited the indecision in Fulham’s ranks. Trippier’s quickly taken long throw unhinged the home side, Eriksen darting past Scott Malone and arcing his centre beyond Tomas Kalas for Kane to convert on the volley. Other presentable opportunities were passed up by his team-matesin the exchanges that followed, but Kane’s finishing was more assured.
Six minutes into the second half Harry Winks and Trippier combined once again to pull the left side of Fulham’s defence out of position. Eriksen’s whipped delivery was almost identical to that of the first half, Kane exploiting Tim Ream on this occasion to sidefoot in from close range while home players appealed – justifiably, but in vain – for an offside.
The England striker thought he had passed up the chance to complete a hat-trick when he lofted Alli’s prodded pass over the bar, but that combination were not to be denied for long. The midfielder was soon slipping the forward clear between the centre-halves, with Kane’s finish whipped and emphatic. A player who had been doubtful for this fixture after picking up a slight knee injury in midweek departed clutching the match ball. “It was only a clash of knees on Thursday, so it was just about icing it to make sure I was ready here,” Kane said. “We’ve not had too many good results recently, so we wanted to come here and win. We’re buzzing to go to Wembley again later this week.”
Jan Vertonghen’s return from injury will have improved the mood further.
There was no disgrace in defeat, but Fulham’s frustration was born of the reality they know they can play better than this. But a side who had thrilled in expelling Middlesbrough and Hull City from cup competitions this term found Tottenham a class apart and were never permitted the chance to whip up their own upbeat rhythm. Ryan Sessegnon, who counts Spurs among his suitors, did inject some thrust down the left and McDonald planted a free header just over the bar, but they were generally reliant upon mistakes to gain glimpses of goal. “They put us under their control for 85% of the game so the result is fair,” Jokanovic said. He had needed their opponents to replicate recent sloppy form for Fulham to stand a chance. But Spurs have finally stirred.TG