It is unclear whether the BASK acronym will catch on. But on the night when José Mourinho started Gareth Bale, Dele Alli, Son Heung-min and Harry Kane in Tottenham colours for the first time, the club got the desired return.
It was Alli’s first Premier League start since the opening day of the season and he made the decisive contribution in the 19th minute, stealing in to meet a low Son cross with a flick and watching it go in off Tosin Adarabioyo for an own goal.
Spurs played with no little thrust and cohesion in the first half and, as they did so, it was possible to feel optimistic about their prospects for the final weeks of the season. Yet, in the end, they owed a victory that fired their hopes of a top-four finish to a moment of fortune.
There was quite the turnaround in the second half, with Fulham dominant for the first part of it, and they thought they had a deserved equaliser just after the hour when Josh Maja, the winter window loanee, lashed a low shot past Hugo Lloris. To local horror, VAR spotted that the ball fell to him after Davinson Sánchez’s hacked clearance had come back off Mario Lemina’s arm. Lemina knew nothing about it.
It was the definition of a passion killer and, as Fulham missed the chance to climb above Newcastle and out of the relegation zone, it was the prompt for Scott Parker to pour out his frustrations.
“Has common sense been lost? Yes, definitely,” the Fulham manager said. “We are trying to make the game so pure, so sterile, trying to control everything to a tee and that’s where the problem lies. VAR is killing every bit of excitement – you don’t even celebrate goals any more. You are losing the raw emotion of the game we love.
“I understand why the goal was not given tonight but I don’t understand the rule. I’m not sure what Lemina is supposed to do. The referee has acted to the law but maybe there should be a bit of common sense.”
Mourinho, unsurprisingly, was less expansive about the vagaries of the handball rule, preferring to focus on the first-half performance from his team and how, after bringing on his substitutes, they could close out the final 10 minutes or so with a degree of comfort.
He withdrew Alli and Bale before the end – the former, certainly, could reflect on an encouraging performance – and Érik Lamela, in particular, brought fresh intensity. The substitute played in Kane only for Alphonse Areola to save with a brave block.
Bale was involved in the goal, driving a pass up to Alli and, when he shifted it wide to Son, Fulham could hear the alarm bells. Son teased Ola Aina before crossing low and hard and Alli, who had timed his run, flicked towards the far corner, the ball going in off the unfortunate Adarabioyo, who might have been conscious of Kane lurking behind him.
It was a swift response by Spurs to the frustration of blowing a gilt‑edged opportunity moments earlier. Kane, of all players, was the culprit. Son teed him up with a glorious outside‑of‑the‑boot cross and Kane had a clean look at the free header, centrally placed, just outside the six-yard box. The effort was weak and straight at Areola.
Fulham wanted to make inroads up the left flank, where Antonee Robinson pushed from full-back and Ruben Loftus-Cheek drifted to create overloads. They probed early on but had to wait until first-half stoppage time for their first clear chance and what a chance it was. Robinson’s stunning surge took him past four opponents and his cut-back was laid off by Maja for Lemina only for him to lift wastefully high.
Spurs were stronger in the one‑on‑ones in the first half, especially in the middle of the field, and dangerous when they won the ball high up. With Alli enjoying himself on the ball – always a bad sign for the opposition – Spurs might have had more before half-time. Kane wanted a penalty following an Aina challenge – there was not enough contact – while Son headed tamely after Alli had dropped a cross to the back post.
Fulham’s fixtures do not get any easier from here on – they still have to play the other five members of the so-called big six – and the second half felt hugely important for them. They began it with intent, pressing on to the front foot, bringing a tempo to worry Spurs and the VAR intervention was a heart-breaker.
Lloris had done well to save from Lemina after a cut-back from Ivan Cavaleiro but, when Fulham pushed again, Sánchez’s attempt to clear was poor and suddenly there was Maja ramming home a lovely finish. It was to no avail.
Joachim Andersen had extended Lloris with a header at the start of the second period while Adarabioyo thumped another one at the goalkeeper but Fulham could not react to the blow of the disallowed goal.
Parker made the point that his team will stay up if they continue to perform like this. The sentiment did not sweep away the pain.