By John Toner
Tottenham v Fulham, Premier League, December 31, 2010
After going twenty six league matches without one, Fulham finally got an away win at Stoke on Tuesday. However they face a difficult task if they are to make it back to back away victories at White Hart Lane on New Yearâ€™s Day.
The London neighbours approach yet another festive fixture with vastly differing ambitions, however, the significance of the three points is of equal weight in both camps. A win for Spurs would send them above Chelsea and back into the top 4, whilst a win for Fulham would lift them out of the relegation zone and into the relatively heady heights of 14th position if other results were to go their way.
Tottenham will go into the game brimming with confidence having won their last two Premier League fixtures despite being reduced to ten men for significant portions of both games. As well as this Harry Redknappâ€™s charges are unbeaten in their last ten games in all competitions and even managed their second domestic clean sheet of the season in the 2-0 home win over Newcastle United.
After a run of eight games without a win the three points gained away to Stoke will have lifted Mark Hughesâ€™ men, the significance of which is not lost on defender John Paintsil: â€œWe were tactically disciplined on the pitch and everyone did really well. When we do our jobs the team game takes care of itself. What we have to do now is continue that form on Saturday against Spurs.â€ However without a win in seven attempts against the Lilywhites, Fulham will be all too aware of how different a proposition Spurs represent.
The hosts go into the game without the services of Jermain Defoe and Younes Kaboul who are both serving suspensions. William Gallas looks set to return after three and a half weeks out with a hamstring strain while Robbie Keane (hamstring) is doubtful and Carlo Cudicini is out with a shoulder problem. Tottenham will also be without long term absentees Ledley King (groin), Tom Huddlestone (ankle), Jamie O’Hara (back) and Jonathan Woodgate (groin).
Moussa Dembele was hoping to make his long awaited return for Fulham after suffering ankle ligament damage in November but will just miss out, however Mark Hughes is confident the striker will return for the West Brom game on January 4th. It could prove timely for Fulham as fellow forward Bobby Zamora (broken leg) will be out for at least another couple of weeks.
Also still unavailable for the Cottagers are Phillipe Senderos (Achilles) and Matthew Briggs (calf) while Mark Schwarzer will play his last game before heading off to play in the Asian Cup with Australia.
Current form and recent history in this fixture do not bode well for Fulham and Tottenhamâ€™s class and strength in depth should see them through. However, due to its congested nature and the fact that footballers are humans after all and will celebrate Christmas and or New Year to some degree, the packed festive schedule does have the capacity to turn out some unexpected results.
It could be argued that Fulham are more in need of the three points due to their perilous position near the foot of the table and the lurking danger of relegation, although, a lot has been staked on a successful season at Spurs and most importantly a return to the Champions League.
If either club fails to achieve its respective ambitions a large drop in revenue and the risk of losing some of their most prized assets awaits, from now on, every point counts.
Tonerâ€™s Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur 3 Fulham 1.