Fulham's managerial change brought an improved performance yet it merely magnified the heartbreak. Having contributed wholeheartedly to a richly entertaining game, they looked set to savour a tonic in the struggle against relegation.

Ashkan Dejagah picked quite a moment to score his first goal for the club since his signing in September of last year and the owner, Shahid Khan, was in attendance to see it. After the sacking of Martin Jol on Sunday, Rene Meulensteen's first game in charge was going exactly as he had dreamt it.

The turnaround was brutal and, even an hour after full-time, Meulensteen struggled to comprehend it. He spoke of a "bitter pill". Fulham have now lost six consecutive Premier League matches.

The joy and relief belonged to André Villas-Boas and Tottenham Hotspur. They anticipated the following scenario: a struggling club fires its manager and enjoys an immediate upsurge. Yet the visitors showed their spirit and found two flashes of quality to find a way to win for the first time in five league games. After the positive performance in Sunday's 2-2 home draw against Manchester United, the pressure on Villas-Boas has been further eased.

It had looked to be a different story but the game turned when Vlad Chiriches addressed a half-cleared corner 35 yards out. His low left-footed drive was beautifully struck, if a little hopeful-looking, but it kept going and, to general surprise, it found its way into corner of the net. It was Chiriches's first goal in Tottenham colours and his celebrations were wild. Fulham were stunned.

Worse was to come. Lewis Holtby had looked sharp since his introduction as a half-time substitute and his winning goal was a moment of the highest class. Accepting the ball from Kyle Walker, he took a touch before unleashing a left-foot rocket into the top corner. Once again, Maarten Stekelenburg was helpless.

"Two moments of inspiration solved the game," Villas-Boas said. "It's going well at the moment and to complete the bounce-back from [the 6-0 defeat at] Manchester City, it would be great to win at Sunderland on Saturday. We've climbed a couple of places thanks to a few surprising results. Now to make that final push."

It was far from perfect for Tottenham and they relied upon Hugo Lloris to save them, particularly during Fulham's purple patch at the beginning and again at the end, when he denied the substitute Bryan Ruiz. Fulham knew that it would not be their night when Pajtim Kasami hit the post in the final minute of injury-time. Tottenham lost Jan Vertonghen to a rolled ankle – he was helped off in distress – but the final scoreline meant everything.

Villas-Boas described the first half as being "out of control" and, in the face of many errors, there were chances and fun for the neutral. Jermain Defoe, who was preferred to Roberto Soldado, forced Stekelenburg into an early save but Fulham took control and Dimitar Berbatov twice went close to an opening goal. His touch, uncharacteristically, betrayed him from Alex Kacaniklic's through-ball. Later his hooked shot from Kasami's cross was brilliantly saved by Lloris. Dejagah also headed narrowly over the bar.

Post Jol, Berbatov's future looks uncertain, with a January move in the offing. "He was fantastic tonight," Meulensteen said. "We have to focus from game-to-game up to the beginning of January. I had some good chats with Dimitar."

Tottenham rallied and only Paulinho will know how he failed to score after a Sascha Riether blunder and combination work between Aaron Lennon and Defoe. Paulinho had done the hard part, stepping inside two Fulham challenges, but he blazed over.

There were flickers from Erik Lamela, Tottenham's record signing, after Villas-Boas had moved him from the right, where he laboured, to the left midway through the first-half. He shot first-time and past the post from Defoe's astute cutback while, following a driving run, his deflected shot forced Stekelenburg into a flying save.

Villas-Boas suggested that, with greater options on the right, Lamela might see a clearer route to the starting XI on the left. This was only his second league start for the club. "It's not been easy for him," Villas-Boas said. "Only through games can it become easier. We need to be patient."

As ever, the Tottenham manager chopped and changed. Mousa Dembélé was unavailable because of hip trouble and Villas-Boas used Paulinho, Holtby and, finally, another substitute, Nacer Chadli, in the No10 role. Tottenham had threatened at the start of the second half through Defoe and Sandro but it was Fulham who deservedly went ahead.

Michael Dawson will not enjoy the inquest. His poor ball dropped Paulinho into trouble and when Scott Parker robbed him, Tottenham looked stretched. Berbatov's diagonal pass released Dejagah and his low finish was marked by composure. Villas-Boas desperately needed a response. He got it.