Fulham's bid for Barclays Premier League survival was dented on Saturday by a 3-1 defeat by Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane.
Successive wins against Aston Villa and Norwich City had lifted Felix Magath's men to within two points of safety before this weekend, but an inability to defend set-pieces proved costly as Fulham failed to make it three victories in a row.
Spurs’ first and third goals arrived from Christian Eriksen free-kicks, with Paulinho and Younes Kaboul converting from close range on each occasion. Paulinho's 35th-minute opener was cancelled out by Steve Sidwell almost immediately. However, Harry Kane registered his third goal in as many matches to restore the home side's advantage early in the second half before Kaboul capitalised on poor defending just after the hour. Sidwell had a chance to pull one back with 13 minutes remaining, but his penalty was saved by Hugo Lloris.
Fulham remain two points behind fourth-bottom Norwich City, who host Liverpool on Sunday, while Spurs, in sixth, will retain slim hopes of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League.
Spurs head coach Tim Sherwood, who admitted prior to the game that he "could not tell you the best 11 players at Tottenham", selected Ezekiel Fryers in place of Vlad Chiriches at centre-half, yet there was no place for Sandro. Scott Parker returned to face a former club as Fulham made five changes from the win over Norwich, but loanee Lewis Holtby was ineligible.
The visitors started brightly, with Hugo Rodallega, the scorer of the winning goals against Villa and Norwich, a lively presence in attack. Spurs goalkeeper Lloris dashed from his line to deny Rodallega from close range during an opening half-hour as Fulham operated with confidence.
However, after David Stockdale had pulled off a fine save at the other end, tipping a volley from Aaron Lennon on to his left post, it was Spurs who took the lead. Eriksen's delightful free-kick from the right was allowed to run through to Paulinho, leaving the Brazilian with the simplest of finishes from two yards.
To their credit, Fulham responded almost immediately. Fryers was unable to clear a pass from Sidwell, who continued his run and jinked into the penalty area before finishing calmly.
Spurs moved back ahead after the break when Lennon was allowed time to deliver a cross with his left foot and Kane rose to beat Stockdale with a glancing header. Within three minutes, Lloris pulled off an acrobatic stop to prevent another swift equaliser after Rodallega had met a cross from John Arne Riise with a powerful header.
Fulham were soon left to rue the missed opportunity as John Heitinga brought down Danny Rose and Kaboul got on the end of Eriksen's resulting free-kick. Eriksen was then penalised for handball to provide Sidwell with an opportunity from the spot, but Lloris dived to his right to maintain Spurs’ two-goal cushion.
The hosts had few problems thereafter in securing only a third win in nine matches across all competitions, leaving Fulham to face another week in the relegation zone.
Spurs head coach Tim Sherwood: " We deserved to win. Fulham were spirited but we weathered all they had to offer and our class told in the end. Paulinho was excellent, he won the ball back for us a lot and defensively, did the job I asked him to do. Christian continues to deliver assists, he must be a dream to play alongside and every time Hugo is called upon, he produces. It’s great to see Harry score again, he looks like he’s going to score every time he plays and I’m confident he’ll continue to do so."
Fulham manager Felix Magath: “We made quite a good game and we had some chances. Tottenham played very well and they have a good goalkeeper, and the goalkeeper saved two or three very good chances against us.
“So we didn’t play badly but the thing that was not so good was that we conceded two goals from free-kicks, and that’s the only thing which disturbs. We had some problems before the game, we had some injured or ill players so we had to change the team from last week. Therefore I was satisfied with the performance today.”
The only thing that’s disturbing me is that we conceded from free-kicks for two goals. It was only one metre from the goal line – that is too easy. I told the boys we have to work on it because if we make it better in the next games we are able to stay up and to win our home games.
“It would be better if we got one or three points today but we were not expected to win here at Tottenham. We are relying on our home games and they are both games that we have to win, and that might be enough to stay up in the league.”