Ange Postecoglou deserves criticism for Tottenham’s premature exit from the Carabao Cup. While there was a logic to Postecoglou giving some of his fringe players a chance to stretch their legs at Craven Cottage, the Australian overdid it by making nine changes and must take a large share of the blame for Spurs blowing yet another chance to end their wait for a first major trophy since 2008.
That the game was decided by a penalty shootout is besides the point. The harsh reality is that a more ruthless side than Fulham would have buried Spurs by half-time and it was hard to know what Postecoglou had achieved by the time Kenny Tete, fully recovered from tearing a boot at the start of the second half, stepped up to win it for Marco Silva’s side. Spurs, after all, are not in Europe this season. Fixture congestion is not going to be an issue and they have ample time to prepare for their trip to Burnley on Saturday. What was the argument for playing such a weakened side?
Postecoglou had an opportunity to play it differently. He started the night with James Maddison, Yves Bissouma, Dejan Kulusevski and Son Heung-min on the bench and Fulham took advantage. They were aggressive from start to finish, rattling Spurs, the quality of their attacking pleasing Silva. “The best team on the pitch will play in the next round,” Fulham’s manager said.
The only disappointment for Silva was that his side needed penalties. Rodrigo Muniz, Bobby De Cordova-Reid and Harry Wilson were guilty of glaring misses and Silva was unhappy with Tete for leaving Fulham at a numerical disadvantage after leaving the pitch to find a new boot shortly before Richarlison drew Spurs level.
Silva could smile, though. Fulham were the sharper side, the more creative side, and they held their nerve during the shootout. All five of their penalties were dispatched with aplomb and they were on their way into the third round after Davinson Sánchez, who struggled throughout at the heart of the Spurs defence, saw his tame effort saved by Marek Rodak.
“We weren’t at our fluent best, which was not surprising considering the changes I made,” Postecoglou said. The Australian would attempt to draw on the positives, talking up the way Spurs fought back after falling behind to an early own goal from Micky van de Ven. The question, though, was whether he had treated the competition with enough respect.
“It is my priority,” Postecoglou insisted. “With no European football how am I going to find out about my players? We put out a lineup that would hopefully give us energy. We’re very much at the discovery stage.”
Nonetheless, it is worth pointing out that Harry Kane left Spurs in search of silverware. The fans who keep calling for the resignation of the Spurs chairman, Daniel Levy, deserved better after filling out the away end at Craven Cottage. It was as if Spurs thought the evening would be nothing more than a leisurely stroll.
Fulham soon put paid to that idea by pressing Spurs at every opportunity and stopping their full-backs, Ben Davies and Emerson Royal, from affecting the game when they stepped into midfield. The pace was relentless and the visitors struggled to build any rhythm, particularly when they tried to play their way out from the back.
Fulham soon led, De Cordova-Reid slipping a pass to Tom Cairney, who made space for himself with a clever feint. Spurs invited the midfielder to dribble into the area and Cairney, twisting past Sánchez and Royal, fizzed a low ball towards the near post. Van de Ven, under pressure from Harrison Reed, diverted the cross past Fraser Forster.
There was no response from Spurs. Oliver Skipp and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg lost the midfield battle to Reed and João Palhinha. Spurs, who had left Eric Dier out in the face of interest in the defender from Bayern Munich, were a mess and Fulham could have led by more than one at half-time. Muniz, a livewire up front, twice had efforts saved by Forster.
Spurs were offering nothing as an attacking force. Ivan Perisic got little out of Tete, Issa Diop and Tim Ream were keeping Richarlison quiet and Manor Solomon, who spent last season on loan at Fulham, was making little impact. Postecoglou had seen enough. He replaced Giovani Lo Celso with Dane Scarlett during the break and Spurs stirred. Their equaliser arrived with Tete off the pitch but it had been coming. Perisic ran at De Cordova-Reid, who was filling in at right-back, and the Croat’s inswinging cross was headed in by Richarlison.
Fulham were stung into action. Spurs lost Richarlison to an ankle injury and were soon forced back. Wilson, on for the disappointing Adama Traoré, repeatedly threatened. Solomon had a curling effort saved by Rodak but Spurs were fortunate it finished 1-1. Their luck would soon run out.