UEFA CUP ROUND TWO (GAME THREE)
THURSDAY 29TH NOVEMBER, 2007
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 3 (0) AALBORG 2 (2)
Referee: - Mr. P. Proenca (Portugal)
Attendance: - 29,758
Spurs (4-4-2):- Robinson; Lee (sub Bent, 46), Dawson, Chimbonda, Bale; Lennon, Jenas (sub Huddlestone, 46), Zokora, Malbranque; Berbatov (sub Boateng, 73), Keane (Capt.)
Subs not used: - Cerny; Stalteri; Tainio, Taarabt
Booked: - Boateng
Aalborg (4-5-1):- Zaza; Olesen, Califf (Capt.), Jakobsen, Pedersen (sub Curth, 73); Nomvethe (sub Lindstrom, 60), Augustinussen, Johansson, Risgard, Enevoldsen; Prica
Subs not used: - Jensen; Jacobsen, Olfers; Mota, Vilakazi
Booked: - Augustinussen (foul on Lennon)
Prompted by decisive half-time substitutions by unbeaten coach Juande Ramos, Spurs proved themselves comeback kids again last night, recovering from a 2-0 deficit to take three points in Group G that will all but assure them of reaching the next phase of the UEFA Cup. After that shell-shocked first half (first two minutes even), when Spurs were taken utterly by surprise by the enterprising Danish team, they had looked like a team on their way out of Europe. However, the news that Getafe were losing at home to Hapoel Tel-Aviv gave us hope, and the second half performance means that a draw in Belgium next week must surely be enough to take Spurs through to Round Three in the New Year.
With Younes Kaboul, and all possible centre-half replacements injured, Ramos was obliged to put Pascal Chimbonda in the middle again, giving Young-Pyo Lee a rare game at right back for his club. Ironically, I saw Lee hit a cross with his left foot from this position, something he never does when playing down that side! However, he was one of those absent from his post when Thomas Enevoldsen took the Spurs right defensive flank by surprise in the second minute, cutting in from the left hand side following a throw, and hitting a curling right footed shot around the out-stretched Paul Robinson into the far corner. The Aalborg fans (and there were a generous contingent) understandably were overjoyed and had even learnt one or two chants in English to regale the stunned home support.
Aalborg were packing their midfield, with Prica the lone front man, but former Wigan man Andreas Johansson was getting from box to box effectively, protecting his defence, but also aiding the attacks. Nomvethe caused some problems down the right flank initially, not least because Gareth Bale had been given licence to roam forward, leaving Chimbonda to cover at times. We know that Ramos likes his full backs to attack, and of course it is a forte of Bale’s, but the defence struggles to cope without manpower.
It was nearly a quarter of an hour before Spurs produced a bit of flowing attacking football, and this came following a ball from Bale which did not quite run for Robbie Keane. Jenas made a good run into the area and won a corner, from which he had a pop at goal that was rather high and wide.
After 21 minutes, Paul Robinson had to be at his most alert when Prica nearly beat him to a long ball. Then Prica wanted a penalty when he went down after receiving a Johansson ball, but the Portuguese referee was having none of it. Aalborg were beating Spurs with effective short passing in the middle and Nomvethe got on the end of the next move hitting his shot wide. Spurs were insistent upon trying to use the flanks, even when shooting chances faced them. Sadly, the ball out to the wings did not cause more direct chances. One deep cross by Lennon reached Keane beyond the back post, but his effort only hit the side netting.
Suddenly, Spurs were two down, having over-committed towards the attack. Our opponents were left with acres of space – again on the left-hand side of defence. Prica was allowed to cross for a scrambled finish by the advancing Risgard. Spurs did win a corner from a Bale free kick just before the break, taken by Malbranque and headed over by Chimbonda.
Those second half changes were immediately impactive. Ramos moved to three at the back – allowing Chimbonda to his natural right side, with Dawson and Bale beside him. Bent partnered Berbatov, whilst Robbie Keane fell back, and Zokora’s main task was to sit in front of the back three. Zokora did this with great success, but probably the most impactive of the changes was Tom Huddlestone for the injured Jenas. Huddlestone’s passing skills came to the fore, and within a minute, after Keane had been deprived of a chance, and the ball was cleared as far as Hudd, he put in an arrowed pass through the middle that Berbatov stretched to reach and slide the ball in for a 2-1 scoreline.
Spurs were now giving it their all, and a hint of desperation definitely gave their game an edge, with Bale still getting down the line, and Lennon making forays on the opposite side. In the 51st minute, Berbatov battled hard down the right channel, just entering the edge of the Aalborg area, before slipping the ball across the area. Keane set the ball up for Malbranque who hit a great shot that the keeper got a slight touch to but could not stop from hitting the roof of the net for an ecstatic 2-2 in front of the Paxton Road stand!
Now there was excitement galore, as Lennon and Chimbonda combined. Chimbonda chipped a ball to Berbatov, who similarly put the ball into the danger zone where Keane could not quite make the killer touch. Aalborg’s manager Erik Hamren replaced Nomvethe with a Lindstrom (who scored Aalborg’s late equaliser in their game against Anderlecht), and there were uncomfortable moments as a Spurs attack broke down. Enevoldsen was not being closed down and hit a shot just past Robinson’s left post.
Spurs took the lead in the 66th minute. Lennon had been fouled 25 yards out, and Bale stepped up to hit a low free kick which goalkeeper Zaza only parried. The ball ran out as far as Lennon, whose cross reached Bent, firing home from close range for his third goal in five games. The turnaround was complete, but would Spurs be able to hold on? Ramos decided to shore up his midfield, replacing Berbatov with Boateng, making his first home appearance.
Boateng was quite impressive too, being unfortunate in my view to see a yellow card for a low ball-winning tackle. Boateng also had a couple of pops at goal, that did not worry the keeper too much. The touch of desperation that Spurs had to get back into the game faded a little, allowing Aalborg to have a couple of chances. One corner was a bit of a worry for the defence, but it was still Spurs who had most chances. Chimbonda’s header from a Malbranque corner was cleared, and Bent laid up a shot for Boateng which was held by Zaza. In added time, Lennon had a shot saved and Bent was again unselfish in declining a chance at goal, choosing to give the ball to Malbranque who was closed down by the keeper and fired around his far post.
Potential disaster had been turned to success, and cheers rang around The Lane from the fans who had booed their own team when they went 2-0 down. Martin Jol had lost his last home European game, and Juande Ramos was in danger of losing his first, but instead he maintained his 6-match unbeaten run at the helm, and made next week’s trip to Anderlecht one to truly relish.
UEFA CUP ROUND TWO
GROUP G TABLE (29.11.07)
POS P W D L F-A GD Pts
1 Spurs 3 2 0 1 6-4 2 6
2 Anderlecht 2 1 1 0 3-1 2 4
3 Getafe 2 1 0 1 3-3 0 3
4 H. Tel-Aviv 3 1 0 2 2-5 -3 3
5 AaB 2 0 1 1 3-4 -1 1