LONDON, January 27 – Tottenham strengthened their grip on fourth place in the Premier League after a 2-0 win over London rivals Fulham at White Hart Lane on Tuesday.A first-half goal from England striker Peter Crouch and a second from the previously out-of favour David Bentley secured the win for Spurs, who remain on course for a Champions League spot after Liverpool’s draw at Wolves allowed the north Londoners to open up a three-point gap between the teams.
While the hosts will be glad to have ended a disappointing recent run, Roy Hodgson’s Fulham continue to struggle and have now lost four league games in a row after a strong start to the campaign.
The visitors’ preparation was disrupted by Manchester United’s announcement that they had agreed a fee for England Under-21 defender Chris Smalling, who has impressed since breaking into the team last September.
Despite the speculation, Hodgson felt that the centre-back was sufficiently focused and named him in the starting eleven.
But Tottenham’s started the game in electrifying fashion, creating two opportunities within the first two minutes.
With their first attack Jermain Defoe’s neat flick set up Tom Huddlestone on the edge of the area, but Australia goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer dived full length to turn the former Derby man’s powerful drive wide of the post.
Fulham absorbed the early pressure and threatened themselves in the 12th minute, Heurelho Gomes in the Spurs net reacting quickly to smother the ball at Bobby Zamora’s feet after a smart through ball by Hungary’s Zoltan Gera.
Crouch broke the deadlock for the hosts in the 27th minute, but most of the credit will be laid at the feet of Luka Modric.
Two Fulham defenders were comfortably guiding the ball over the dead-ball line until the Croatia midfielder nipped in to pull the ball back and cross for Crouch, who threw out a leg and poked the ball past Schwarzer.
Spurs were guilty of throwing away the lead twice during Saturday’s FA Cup match with Leeds, so it was understandable that they curtailed their attacking instincts for a while after that.
However, Modric came within inches of doubling the lead on the stroke of half-time as he whipped a vicious shot over the bar after a jinking run down the left channel.
Fulham battled hard for an equaliser, but Spurs were always more likely to get the next goal.
Bentley, subject of much transfer speculation after falling out with boss Harry Redknapp, delivered a perfect cross into the area which Defoe headed just over the crossbar.
Former Arsenal man Bentley’s prospects of more first team football or a lucrative transfer were boosted when he made it 2-0 on the hour mark, albeit with a large slice of fortune.
Wales defender Gareth Bale won a free-kick on the left corner of the area after being hacked down.
Bentley stepped up and curled a shot towards goal which took a huge deflection of the defensive wall before looping over Schwarzer’s head.
The stroke of luck seemed to invigorate the former Blackburn man who had another long-range free-kick saved by Schwarzer before delivering a fine ball which defender Michael Dawson headed over the top.
Redknapp’s men showed they had learnt from Saturday’s draw, comfortably playing out time to give themselves breathing space in the coveted fourth spot.