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Eking into the knockout stages

December 18, 2008

Luka Modric finishes for Tottenham's first goal of the 2-2 draw.

An injury-ridden Tottenham squad looked tentative for the first half of today’s UEFA Cup match against Spartak Moscow and then, around the time NEC Nijmegen took a 2-0 lead against Udinese, woke up.

The first goal of the game came off of a terrible mistake by defender Gilberto who was receiving his first start since Harry Redknapp took the club over. Gilberto went to play the ball back to Heurelho Gomes and then hesitated, seemingly sensing a player over his shoulder but not taking notice of the player in front of him. Gomes then attempted to come out to take the ball only to have Artem Dziuba snatch it from under his nose and stick it in the back of the net.

Things only got worse from there, as Dziuba dribbled around Gomes for another goal in the 33rd minute, putting Spurs down 2-0 and making it seem as if the lilywhites may not make it through to the next round. The offense, however, would not allow the Russians’ lead to hold in the second half.

Redknapp demonstrated that his team needed to become more offensive in the second half by bringing speedy midfielder Aaron Lennon into the game at halftime, removing Gilberto. (On a related note, Redknapp said that Gilberto would never play for Tottenham again after today’s embarrassing performance.)

Lennon instantly added another dimension to the Tottenham attack, which had mostly featured Luka Modric and Jamie O’Hara in the first half, creating opportunities and excitement every time he touched the ball. The first Spurs goal came as the result of a Lennon run down the right, which he pulled up from suddenly, slotting the ball through to Modric who was standing unmarked in front of the Spartak call and scored, ensuring that the hosts would get through if NEC only won by one goal. (The goal was somehow Modric’s first in a Tottenham uniform, but one had to sense that it was a long time coming, as Modric has had chance after chance in the most recent run of games, creating two very good opportunities against Manchester United last weekend and just missing out on a header earlier in today’s game.)

The second goal, which ensured safety,came as the result of a Gareth Bale cross. Bale played a pretty solid offensive game, but looked a little weak on defense. His cross to Tom Huddlestone in the 74th minute, however, and the subsequent header, left no doubts as to the players’ talent. Bale came in off the left and sent a nice cross in to a waiting Huddlestone who used his height to rifle the ball into the back of the net and help Spurs reach the knockout stage.

Two of the three major negatives (not including Gilberto’s gaffe) were not surprising, as David Bentley again looked ineffective on crosses and corners, and Frazier Campbell’s finishing skills looked absolutely dreadful.

Bentley has been doing quick corners lately where he looks for someone like Modric, standing about 10 yards off of the ball, and will just put it into him quick and hope that something happens off of that as opposed to actually lining up and taking a solid corner. This is a ridiculous strategy, as Spurs had two very tall players in the lineup today in the form of Huddlestone and Michael Dawson, both of whom could have scored off of any given corner if Bentley had only taken the chance. Maybe Bentley is being ordered to take those quick corners by the bench. I certainly hope so, because if he isn’t, he will not be on Harry’s good side for too long.

The larger concern was Campbell’s lack of form, as the on-loan striker had several chances to completely put the game away towards the end, slipping on one opportunity and failing to beat defenders on a couple of others. Now, making mistakes is a part of the maturation process and Campbell would work significantly better in a two striker system than one where he is the lone man up top, but his mistakes looked absolutely terrible today and Spurs will need to count on him if they are going to advance in the UEFA Cup (particularly with Roman Pavlyuchenko cup-tied and Darren Bent going through an injured stretch, if you call tonsillitis an injury).

Spurs needed at least one point to guarantee that they would make it through and, as it turned out, managed exactly that. They will find out their next round’s fate on Friday.

Originally posted at White Hart Lunatic

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