Gareth Bale rescued Spurs with two stunning free-kicks that secured a precious lead to take to Lyon, just when the European dream was fading away. May as well cut out the flab, trim the fat, cut out the middle man and just give him the ball. He’s going to sort it one way or another. Might as well keep the same headline for every piece until the end of the season. He scores all the goals and there’s danger in the air each time he touches the ball. It’s magic, thrilling out of the seat stuff. Polish every second he’s on the ball, wrap it in scented tissue and tuck it away in the memory bank for when you are old and grey.
Yet Bale threw a lifeline into a dark, dank hole that he helped to dig. He wasn’t alone, of course. Lyon are a tough, well-drilled side. Bale and his team-mates ran into a battle-hardened Champions League outfit and by the end had run out of ideas. It’s foolish to level the criticism that we would be nothing without Bale – we have him, he’s there, same as every great player lifts the whole side. However, last night’s uninspired effort confirmed the problems we have in keeping the ball and up front, which could cost us dear as the season reaches a climax.
A lead for a tough second leg was more than looked likely for much of the second half. I’m grateful but it does not fully obscure ineffectual efforts again from Dempsey and Adebayor, who is now generating ironic cheers from the East Stand when he wins a header. Parker is properly fit again but his forward passing generates nothing.
Serenaded throughout by a band of itinerant balladeers in the Park Lane, this was a Valentine’s day with my one true love. The lights were a bit bright, hardly the sort of secluded atmosphere you need for romance. Bit heavy on the dimmer switch.
But romance so often smacks headfirst into reality and comes off second best. A decent crowd, considering the inflated ticket prices, and the whiff of a glory glory night dissolved into the reality of these first-leg games in Europe, one that was a long way from the final even though we are in the middle of February. The game was like an air-bed with a tiny hole. It looks solid but it’s slowly deflating before our very eyes. Play well and it’s never truly satisfying because there’s another game to go, another chance to cock it up. Play poorly and there’s opportunity for redemption. Either way, there’s something empty about a first leg tie. Bit like all my Valentine’s Days, really….
It took a while but we got going. Lennon and Walker combined superbly down the right. Beating the full-back this way and that or a through ball inside him, their pace was unstoppable. More please. Demebelehad a good first half too. Even though I don’t like him so deep, he had enough room to turn defence into attack. One throughball, cutting and quick, set up Adebayor but he missed the chance.
Finally, down he right again, Bale with an open goal, unmarked, he misses. Unbelieveable for Superboy under any circumstances, but now the lead shield had come off the container of green kryptonite that I am convinced lies buried beneath the penalty spot.
No matter. A free-kick, ridiculously far out even for him, but it swerves this way and that, sideways away from the keeper then down into the corner of the net. Bale has changed his technique in the last month or so. He no longer gives it sidespin and curl with the inside of his left foot but rather strikes it cleanly and lets the ball do its work. The swerve sets the keeper in one direction so a touch the other way and he has to change balance as well as direction.
Bale did not have a good game, all round. He has so much at his disposal, can do so many things, so many options, that it was as if he had too many choices that he delayed and deliberated, or tried something too flash. The simple choice is often the best.
Second half and we seldom got going. Lyon limited the space for Dembele and on our right. We were therefore less effective although I would not have substituted Lennon who had another good game. Lyon’s 4-3-3 can turn defence into attack quickly and once they had equalised with another in this game of stunners, they fell back and we were getting nowhere until the injury time winner. As above but no less wonderous. The keeper is still dizzy from watching the flight of the ball.