A Harry Winks goal in added time kept Tottenham Hotspur from becoming embroiled in a gritty top four race and may well have condemned Fulham to relegation.
Fernando Llorente had put the ball in his own net to give Fulham a deserved lead at home and they played with pace and confidence right up until half-time.
Spurs equalised through a Dele Alli header in the 51st-minute and although they were frustrated for much of the second half and could have conceded another, Winks' 93rd-minute winner is vital for their season. Alli suffered a hamstring injury in the second half that means he won't play for Spurs against Chelsea next weekend.
A seven-point gap has now opened up between Fulham and 17th. It's an ominous gap. They trudged off the pitch in West London covered in mud, with aching legs and scratches down their bodies. Yet their hard work means nothing in their campaign for Premier League safety.
Manager Claudio Ranieri insisted that his team "are still alive" despite the defeat. "I’m positive because when you play this kind of football, we must believe," the Italian said. "I believe in my players."
Story of the match
With absentees aplenty, Tottenham started at Craven Cottage like a partly broken team. And if at the start they were suffering from a sprained back of sorts, they were paralysed by the end of the first half.
Claudio Ranieri’s attackers, helped by new signing Ryan Babel, wreaked havoc on this injured Spurs team. No Kane, no Son, no Sissoko and no composure.
Babel quickly re-adjusted to Premier League football, getting his first sight of goal within a quarter of an hour. The Dutchman raced down the left flank, beat Davinson Sanchez for pace and his left-footed caress of a shot towards the near post was saved.
It was that left flank where Spurs suffered. Just like against Manchester United, Kieran Trippier was left unprotected due to the absence of Sissoko and Pochettino’s team suffered.
The Craven Cottage clappers were out in full force quickly on Sunday afternoon as Ranieri’s team put pressure on Spurs and played with pace and confidence.
Two chances at corners failed to come to fruition, one seeing Mitrovic, who had one of his typical thunderous performances, head down into the ground before stabbing an effort goalwards.
Although Spurs dominated possession, as they usually do, a Fulham goal felt somewhat inevitable. The manner of it less so, perhaps. The sheer dismay with which Fernando Llorente, in for the injured Kane, reacted to hitting the back of the net told you all you needed to know. This forced spell in the side was never going to reap a starting spot ahead of Kane as a reward, but it is providing a chance to make something of his Tottenham career. Or at least, it was.
Instead, the ball hit off the inside of Llorente’s right knee and flew uncontrollably into his own net. With that, Spurs attempted an immediate response but failed. With Eriksen forced deeper due to the absence of Sissoko, the creativity in the side was lacking. Not only that but, with neither Kane nor Son, an outlet was missing too. Centrally, Spurs were weak in midfield. Fulham won the second balls and used them well.
Babel saw a headed chance fly over after a wonderful right-flank cross from Cyrus Christie. Fulham’s confidence led to moves that are so rarely on show at Craven Cottage. It has not been the home of scintillating passing football this season, no matter how good they have been. And yet, had it not been for an offside flag, they would have scored one of the best team goals of the season.
A storming Seri broke through his own penalty area and released possession onwards to Chambers. The on-loan 24-year-old surged forward up towards the opposition half and splayed a pass out wide that eventually found its way to Babel. His cross floated to Schurrle at the back post and at the moment that he directed a header at goal that would be saved and parried, Mitrovic was standing marginally offside. It was an exceptional decision from the linesman, but a correct one. It would have been a deserved goal.
More chances came, but none quite so clinical or fast. Chambers caused a gasp at the Cottage with a sudden backheel on the edge of the penalty area that fed Babel through, but the 32-year-old couldn’t beat Lloris. Spurs were bereft of ideas until the break and a corner in added time summed up their woes when it hardly rose from the ground before hitting the sidenetting.
Had they been able to, Ranieri’s Fulham would have continued without a break. Instead, Pochettino and Spurs took their chance to regroup. The chiropractor worked on the broken spine. Six minutes into the half and Dele Alli headed home to equalise after a mistake from Tim Ream. The American failed to clear a ball just outside the penalty area and Eriksen lapped up the opportunity to get a quality cross in. That, of course, he did, and right onto Alli’s head. Few can head better than the England man, and he duly delivered. 80% of his league goals this season have been headers.
For a moment after, it did look like Fulham would be worn down by Tottenham eventually. One of those games, maybe. The signs were there. Babel departed to a standing ovation. Schurrle would do the same not too long after the hour mark. A gritty second-half performance was the order of the day, it seemed.
Danny Rose had a deflected shot strike off the crossbar for Fulham, but there remained intent and opportunity for Fulham. Sessegnon, a substitute, and Mitrovic pushed forward, still exploiting the weaknesses in the Spurs midfield and backline.
But the frustration seeping into the home side was evident, notably when Mitrovic took particular offence at one challenge from Sanchez. He was booked after a brief altercation, as was Vertonghen. The home support, meanwhile, descended into a cacophony of boos and frustrated screams. There were few groans, because Fulham were doing nothing wrong. It just wasn’t the same as that exciting first half.
Spurs, too, though, were held in deadlock, unable to create and without a midfield that could hold the ball and calm the game down. That's what was needed until the 80th-minute, at which point they could have surged forward in numbers.
That they did, even if they failed to control the game initially. And when Harry Winks stuck the ball home in the third minute of added time, the majority of Craven Cottage sunk into their chairs. Substitute Georges-Kevin Nkoudou cut inside and delivered a wonderful right-footed cross to the backpost for Winks to head home and continue his fantastic season in the Spurs midfield.
The away fans sung 'he's one of our own'. Their hero being Harry Winks, rather than Kane.
The effort and display from Fulham deserved more but the result is a credit to Tottenham's resilience in the face of a number of absentees.