Spurs’ European campaign has produced tension and drama at times but frankly when messrs Cloake and Powley produce the 2040 edition of the Glory Glory Nights 2012-13 won’t merit more than a page. There have been too many inglorious nights, nothing dreadful but too many the definition of average.
The elongated format saps the energy of fans and players alike but Spurs have done their best to inject much-needed drama into the competition. Barely able to muster a consistent, coherent performance throughout, save for a silky smooth dissection of Inter Milan at the Lane, instead we opted for the tension born from brinkmanship with desperate surges for late goals in half of the ties. That we got them says much for the determination of the squad and the individual talents of men like Bale and Dembele who delivered their best football when under the greatest pressure, the mark of greatness. Their late goals home and away versus Lyon were remarkable.
Yet it all ended in a moment of tragic comedy. In the grip of a penalty shoot-out, one down after Hud’s poorly placed opener was too close to the keeper, our only striker, experienced in European and international football, chooses to approach his penalty with a silly walk last seen in my primary school playground when we finally got tired of 3 and in and began to muck about before the bell rang. My mate Trev was the best. He would have wanted to improve on Adebayor’s style but it would have got a few giggles. Into the sky and over, Spurs were out. I’m certain that somewhere on the net Spurs fans will be slating Manu’s smile as he walked away as a sign of his indifference but I’m with him: you have to laugh or else you’d cry.
Spurs fans are used to the side raising their game for cup matches but in Europe ours fell away. Apart from Inter at home when on the back of the north London derby win, anything suddenly, miraculously seemed possible, we’ve not put in a consistent effort. Lax defending and an inability to retain possession characterised several dull games.
The league format means that it doesn’t really matter – stagger through, there’s no incentive to reach the heights – but these faults became real problems against better teams in the knock-out phase.
Monday’s piece posed the question, ‘is it only us?’ in respect of Spurs’ faltering league form but it applies equally well to Europe and last night – is it only Spurs who do things the hard way? The match was classic Tottenham, that mixture of quality and frustration that entices and infuriates us all. It was also this European campaign in microcosm. Commitment aplenty, an inability to keep control of a match once it has been established, ‘WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?’ defending, wayward passing, high drama and telling late goals.
We weathered an early storm from the classy Basel attack and established if not dominance then a measure of possession and therefore control. We went a goal up, a calm finish from Dempsey after a defensive mistake. This was naturally an incentive to immediately forget about careful build up and give the ball away at will. Dembele made the fatal mistake, a basic error in midfield letting in the excellent Salah. One each just at the point when we should have exploited our lead and territorial superiority. Instead, we were determined not to keep the ball and the defence was wilting. Naughton got near his man only by fouling while Dawson appeared to believe he was on holiday at a water park, competing to see how far he could slide on the soggy turf.
We can’t defend corners – episode four or is it five? A cluster of defenders were sucked into the near post and taken out of the game when the ball was flicked on. Friedel had no cover when he parried and the Swiss touched it in.
But this is Tottenham in Europe. Pressing unconvincingly, Huddlestone placed a fine free-kick onto Dempsey’s chest and he did the rest. The commentary churlishly focused on defensive shortcomings but the American scored a fine goal that hopefully will give him confidence for the rest of the season.
It was our mess and we almost got ourselves out of it. Despite their shortcomings, I have to admire the attitude of the players in battling out extra time while running on empty, especially after Vertonghen’s tired mind forced a mistake that led to a justified red card. Mentions in dispatches for Daws, Walker and Hudd, the latter for sterling work as a makeshift centre half in Jan’s place.
Lewis Holtby had his best game for Tottenham in the centre of midfield where he belongs. He worked hard, kept his position and took responsibility when he had. Something similar may be said of the highly promising Tom Carroll, who understands what is required of him despite his lack of experience and never shirked his duties for a second. Finally, I must give Dempsey full credit for his two goals. He’s been rank lately and deserves to be praised.
Ten days off now, a much-needed chance to draw breath and rest weary limbs. I suggest Dembele is ferried around in the manner of an Egyptian pharaoh, not having to lift a finger. He needs a break more than anyone and will be crucial if we are to make the top four. Our Andre has shown he’s able to raise the team’s energy and spirits after a defeat. We still have so much to play for.