Was that the smoke from flares drifting across Benfica’s Estadio da Luz or incense accompanying the incantation of the last rites of Tottenham Hotspur’s Europa League campaign? 3,000 Spurs fans turned up for the wake but in truth this was a passing that was little lamented. The EL has a remarkable ability to suck the joy out of the game of football for both fans and players. Like poor Walter Williams in downhome Mississippi, the 2013-14 campaign was pronounced dead and safely zipped up in a body bag when astonishingly signs of life were detected.
Two late goals from nowhere and a penalty denied could, should have seen us into extra time in a tie where until then we had been second best. It was a pleasure to feel disappointed. It proved that the anomie and apathy created over the last few months or so was merely superficial. Back in the game and suddenly the heart beat fast again.
This makeshift team had toddled along nicely enough, plenty of energy and application without ever looking like making a breakthrough, save for one chance badly fluffed by Soldado. A goal and Spurs were transformed. We scored two, could have had two more plus that penalty. A rousing final fifteen minutes showed fans and players alike that we could go for it. Delight in that disappointment. Maybe these days being grateful for small mercies is more the size of it. Whatever, it was fun while it lasted and we could do with some fun.
Let’s stick with the fun part. Chadli had played down the middle. At least he had run around a bit. With Kane on to replace a toiling Soldado, the Belgian was set free! Free to be the man he has always wanted to be!! Yeh, he moved to the left, where he looks much more comfortable. First effort was the right footer into the opposite top corner, which after his belter in the dying moments of the Newcastle game he is now contractually obliged to attempt. It dribbled ineffectually into the keeper’s arms.
Next one was very different. He drove towards the box and this right footer, low this time, curled away from the keeper into the side of the net.
A few minutes later, Lennon stood up a lovely far post ball for Kane to head back. Chadli pounced, ungainly contact but obeyed the basic law of a striker, get it on target. Benfica fell apart. They weren’t used to this from a Spurs side they thought they had caged in docile captivity. Lennon should have found his man when deep in the box, this from a stunning weighted ball inside the full-back from the excellent Bentaleb. Kane was pushed over from behind in the box, surely, certainly a penalty to everyone save the three officials in close proximity. Siggy heading a far-post cross too softly – great chance! Never thought I’d be writing about any might-have-beens in this article.
I had anticipated most of the action being at the other end but in fact after carelessly running out of centre halves and finding the shops were closed, our makeshift back-four did very well. Fryers responded to the pressure but credit to the full-backs Naughton and Rose for cutting out the supply of crosses. Benfica were restricted to only a single on-target goal attempt, their goal where the lack of cohesion at centreback showed. Garay got between the two of them to power a header past Friedel.
However, Spurs did not cave in and applied themselves throughout. Benteleb responded positively to being a deeper lying midfielder with the dual responsibility of breaking up the Benfica attacks and starting our own. Given a fraction more room than our players had in the first leg, he made good use of it, starring in that final frantic last 15 minutes with three stunning passes. A prospect indeed.
Siggy did his Tigger thing in the middle (Tiggy?), bouncing around energetically. Two wide men, Lennon and Townsend, but we could have made more of the width. Soldado on his own up front, hacked a great first half opportunity into the ground and over. He could have shot, he could have rolled it across the goal, he certainly and inexplicably had the time to make up his mind, but instead another bad miss. No chance of his confidence rising. Poor man-management to leave him stranded after scoring versus Cardiff.
Sherwood chose to spend the entire game in the Director’s Box. I understand this was his choice – he wasn’t banned – following his spat with Jesus at WHL. Odd – what exactly was he afraid of? That he couldn’t keep his temper under wraps? That he would look weak if he went in for more gilet-throwing? It drew attention to himself. His team needed him and he was a long way away from them. He didn’t sit next to Levy either. Correct me if I am wrong, but I thought I saw him smile and wave on the way out just before the match ended. On the way to a defeat – not the way to go. He made sure he was seen, though.
Tim made his way down to the Spurs fans after the game and fair play to him. His side showed spirit and focus in defeat. The last-kick-of-the-game penalty conceded by a tired Sandro made it a draw on the night. ITV anchor Matt Smith described it as “a moral victory of sorts”. Not even a moral victory then, talk about faint praise. For us, it was a relief and pleasure to see the players work hard for each other and for the team. That they so nearly pulled off an improbable comeback is a bonus.