LONDON (AFP) – Harry Winks’ first goal since 2016 handed Tottenham a last gasp 2-1 victory at Fulham on Sunday night, but at a cost with Dele Alli joining a lengthy injury list for Mauricio Pochettino’s men.
Already shorn of Harry Kane until March with ankle ligament damage and Son Heung-min away at the Asian Cup with South Korea, Alli’s absence for a packed few weeks ahead is another huge blow to Tottenham’s challenge in four competitions.
However, Spurs remain in third in the Premier League and can at least now count on a seven-point cushion over fifth-placed Arsenal and Manchester United in the race for a top-four finish.
Tottenham travel to Chelsea for the second leg of their League Cup semi-final on Thursday holding a slender 1-0 lead, and face Crystal Palace in the fourth round of the FA Cup next weekend.
Kane and Alli are also unlikely to be fit in time to face Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League on February 13.
“It’s not a worry, it’s a massive opportunity for other players to play,” insisted the ever-optimistic Pochettino.
“Of course without Kane and now Alli it’s not going to be easy. But we have to go there (to Chelsea), try to win and get to the final.”
Fulham on the other hand are now seven points off safety and look set to return to the Championship after just one season back in the top flight.
But boss Claudio Ranieri still believes a great escape is possible if his side can match the levels they reached in a first-half display that should have yielded more than a 1-0 lead at the break.
“We are alive, we continue to fight,” said Ranieri. “The team showed a fantastic performance. I can say only ‘well done’, but stay smart until the end.
“I’m positive because when you play this kind of football, this kind of performance you must believe.”
After splashing over GBP100 million in transfer fees to little success in the summer, Fulham added Dutch international Ryan Babel till to the end of the season from Besiktas.
The former Liverpool winger’s pace and strength made an instant impact against an unsettled Spurs defence as Pochettino switched to a back three.
Babel brushed aside Davinson Sanchez for the first big chance, but Hugo Lloris made the first of a series of fine saves to bail out the visitors.
Fulham’s bright start was rewarded 17 minutes in, courtesy of a stray Tottenham leg, as Spanish striker Fernando Llorente, starting for the first time in the league this season in Kane’s absence, miscued a Jean Michael Serri corner into his own net.
Babel then headed over from close range before Lloris produced an incredible stop to parry Andre Schurrle’s volley.
Aleksandar Mitrovic headed home the rebound, but the offside flag was raised against the Serbian striker.
As so often this season, those wasted opportunities allied to some slack defending cost Ranieri’s men.
Spurs were level soon after the break as Christian Eriksen’s dinked cross to the back post picked out Alli to power home a header.
The visitors were dealt a body blow when Alli limped off four minutes from time and Georges-Kevin N’Koudou handed just his second appearance of the season given Spurs’ stretched resources.
However, the French substitute was to have a telling impact when his wicked swinging cross was met by perfectly Winks’s burst into the box and bullet header at the back post.
“It has been too long (since I last scored),” said Winks. “The manager told us to believe, keep playing, he changed a couple of things tactically to get us higher up the pitch and it worked out.”