Dimitar Berbatov returned to White Hart Lane to score the only goal of the game to secure an excellent win for Fulham in North London.
A goal from former player Dimitar Berbatov saw Tottenham Hotspur sink to a third straight defeat on Sunday, as they lost 1-0 to a Fulham side who earned a rare away win in the Premier League.
Victory would have moved Andre Villas-Boas’ side to within two points of second-place Manchester City, but they were unable to find a way past Fulham’s excellent goalkeeper, Mark Schwarzer.
Tottenham now find themselves just four points ahead of north London rivals Arsenal, who have a game in hand, in the scramble for Champions League qualification places.
Berbatov’s goal turned out to be just enough for Fulham – managed by former Tottenham coach Martin Jol – to taste victory away from Craven Cottage for only the third time in league action this season.
It was no surprise that Gareth Bale was restored to the Tottenham starting line-up after suspension prevented him from playing at Inter Milan in mid-week, when Spurs reached the Europa League quarter-finals despite a 4-1 loss.
Emmanuel Adebayor, whose extra-time goal in Milan squeezed Tottenham into the last eight on away goals, kept his place in the side, with Jermain Defoe dropping to the bench.
Bale made a lively start, with Fulham captain Brede Hangeland stopping his first foray into the box at the expense of a corner before the Tottenham man curled a long-range effort over.
Fulham then needed Sascha Riether to head off the line after Bale rose to meet Gylfi Sigurdsson’s corner with a header of his own.
But Jol’s side worked hard to limit Tottenham opportunities, with Sigurdsson then scuffing a half-chance wide, and a lack of atmosphere in the home sections of the ground reflected that.
Bale blasted a hopeful effort well over the target as the game sleepwalked towards half-time.
Tottenham made a change at the break, with centre-back Michael Dawson, who had suffered a hamstring injury, replaced by ex-Fulham man Clint Dempsey.
The American moved to the right of midfield, Benoit Assou-Ekotto switched to left-back, and Jan Vertonghen joined Steven Caulker in the middle of defence.
It livened up the game immediately and Bale forced Schwarzer into his first taxing save of the game with a long-range attempt.
Fulham’s reply was a 52nd-minute opening goal on the counter-attack, with Berbatov arriving in the six-yard box to steer Riether’s low delivery from the right past goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
It was the first time the Bulgarian had scored at White Hart Lane since Tottenham sold him to Manchester United in August 2008, and he did not celebrate.
Steve Sidwell’s deflected long-ranger was tipped over by Lloris as Tottenham found themselves under pressure again, and Fulham came close to making it 2-0 from the corner when Bryan Ruiz’s flick-on was met by Hangeland at the back post.
It looked like the Norway defender would score but instead he headed wide.
Defoe came on for Sigurdsson just after the hour mark, which saw Bale switch to the right of midfield, and Mousa Dembele was replaced in central midfield by Tom Carroll a few minutes later.
Schwarzer pulled off an admirable save to deny Defoe, who shot first-time on the turn after Caulker had set him up, and the goalkeeper was then quick off his line to get to Carroll’s through-ball ahead of Bale.
As the game entered its final phase, Fulham sent on Eyong Enoh for his debut, replacing Giorgos Karagounis, who had just been involved in a tussle with Dempsey that saw the Spurs man booked.
Schwarzer made another fine save to deny Defoe once more after the England international met Bale’s cross from the right with another well-struck first-time effort.