On Thursday night, Tottenham recorded a famous 3-1 victory to send them through to the Europa League round of 16. All had looked lost until a crazy 15 minute spell saved Spurs’ season. It was a dramatic and exhilarating turnaround.
I have to admit, I had written us off after the Ukrainians scored moments after half-time. This was a precious away goal and left Tottenham needing three. Up until that point we hadn’t looked like scoring at all.
Sherwood made some bold team selections. He went all out and played his best players in a very attacking 4-4-2. It was great that he was taking the game seriously, but I was less pleased with the formation. 4-4-2 is not necessarily more attacking than 4-5-1, it depends on the personnel and the tactical details. In the early exchanges it felt like we were missing a man in midfield.
Fans have been crying out for the inclusion of Christian Eriksen, and he was named in the first XI after three matches on the substitutes bench. Also included were Adebayor and Lloris, our two key players – normally protected from the distractions of European competition but risked here. The best news of all was Sandro was back, providing some much needed bite and character in midfield.
The first half was very disappointing. Spurs didn’t create much and looked vulnerable on the counter attack. Another slow start. Then, as in the game at Norwich, we conceded directly after the interval. What is Sherwood saying in his half-time team talks?
The tie looked over, but then finally we started playing. The desperate nature of the situation seemed to bring the best out of the team. Maybe they finally felt free of expectation, maybe it instilled urgency, maybe the opposition mentally relaxed. Tiredness could have been a factor, Dnipro haven’t played a domestic game for three months because of the Ukrainian league’s long winter break. Whatever it was, the spark was provided by Eriksen.
Incredibly left on the bench when we needed a goal last weekend, he started the comeback. First playing a defence splitting pass to Soldado who finished clinically, only for an offside flag to cruelly rule out a rare goal for the Spaniard. Next Eriksen scored directly from a free-kick, bringing a glimmer of hope to the team and the crowd. Finally, he set up Adebayor for the second goal. He may not be consistent, but post Bale, he is the one player who can provide something out of the ordinary.
In between these two goals came perhaps the decisive moment of the tie, certainly the most controversial one. As Eriksen waited to take a free kick, Vertonghen fell to the ground and a melee ensued, with Dawson particularly prominent. Roman Zozulya, Dnipro’s centre forward, appeared to have headbutted the Belgian and was shown a straight red card.
Replays show the contact was minimal. There can be little sympathy for Zozulya, who deserved to be sent off. However, Vertonghen’s reaction was embarrassing. A blot on an otherwise famous victory.
Adebayor and Lloris continued their recent heroics. The togolese striker scoring a fantastic winner to add to the second. Lloris safeguarded our progress with a string of late saves as Dnipro were forced to push forwards. It was worrying how easily they cut through our defence.
Eriksen was man of the match, with Adebayor and Lloris close behind. It will be interesting to see if the Dane starts in the league on Sunday.
So a great win but the performance had many flaws; Spurs were lucky to go through over the two legs. Benfica await in the next round, a replay of our 1962 European Cup semi-final. If we want to make the semi-finals this time around, we will have to play better than this.
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