André Villas-Boas has claimed he is not worried whether Gareth Bale has earned a reputation for diving and says that there is nothing he can do about the winger's recent propensity, whether deserved or undeserved, for picking up yellow cards.
Bale picked up his fourth booking for simulation since the start of last season and his second in a week, despite having been clipped by Fulham's Steve Sidwell, but his manager will not be speaking either to the referees – "It's difficult for them" – or to the player – "We just talk about the fact that he's near a suspension" – regarding the situation.
"You can't do anything," said Villas-Boas, whose side have now won three games in succession. "If he has a reputation I think it's a little bit unfair. He uses it as a precaution. There are different types of challenges. I'm not saying that all the players [who] challenge Gareth are malicious. It just that the action is so quick that it might look like it's not a foul when it is. It's difficult for the referees to judge."
Bale does not exactly make it any easier for them with his style of tumble – the arms go up and out and the leg flicks back like someone attempting a horizontal Charleston. Against Sidwell he did appear to be tripped or at least to be taking evasive action to avoid a trip, but the subsequent embellishments were unnecessary. To help referees, perhaps Bale needs first to help himself.
A hamstring injury means that he will be out for about a fortnight, but Villas-Boas will have been pleased to see his side so demonstrably less reliant on the Welshman at Craven Cottage than they have been at times this season.
It was far from Bale's best day but the form of, among others, Jermain Defoe, who scored twice, Sandro, Aaron Lennon and Kyle Naughton, who put in a comfortable display at right-back in place of Kyle Walker, suggests this Spurs side are increasing their strength as a collective.
This season they seem to have either been very good or very bad. They opened without a win in three, then won four in a row, lost four of the next five and are now back on a three-game winning streak. That inconsistency means that although they are now level on points with third-placed Chelsea, they are also only five clear of 10th-placed Arsenal. There is certainly no danger of their manager getting carried away.
"Everybody is so tight together," he said. "You can see Swansea and Everton [in seventh and sixth respectively] are three points behind us. So at the moment it can change very dramatically. We are tied up together from 10th up to third. The top two are a little bit far off."
Even the most optimistic of Spurs supporters would stop short of suggesting that a title tilt is on the cards, and Villas-Boas revealed he will not be spending in January in an attempt to chase the Manchester clubs. "No I don't think we need it," he said. "We have three top players coming back who played most of the games last year in Younes Kaboul, Benoît Assou-Ekotto and Scott Parker. These will be major additions to the squad."
The fact that Tottenham's summer signings Gylfi Sigurdsson, who laid on Defoe's first goal, and Clint Dempsey, who set up the striker for his second five minutes later, are showing signs of finally finding some of the form they displayed last season, with Swansea and Fulham respectively, will further hearten Villas-Boas, and quite how he will incorporate Parker in the side given the continued excellence of Sandro in the deep-midfield role will be interesting.
Fulham's Martin Jol has similar selection problems but based on a lack, rather than a surfeit, of options. Brede Hangeland's suspension is over and he cannot return quickly enough given the hapless nature of Philippe Senderos's performance – the Swiss was at least partly responsible for both Defoe goals – and Bryan Ruiz, who should be back to fitness before next weekend, will be a welcome foil for Dimitar Berbatov's often lonely majesty in attack.
Seven games without a win have seen the Cottagers tumble from sixth at the beginning of November to 12th. "Last year we never gave away a lead," said Jol. "But this year you can see we need to score a lot of goals to get wins and that is a bit worrying."
Man of the match Sandro (Tottenham Hotspur)