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Slavia Prague v Spurs, 14.02.08

UEFA CUP 3RD RD (1ST LEG)
THURSDAY 14TH FEBRUARY, 2008
SLAVIA PRAGUE 1 (0) TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 2 (2)

Prague scorer:-
Strihavka, 69

Spurs scorers:-
Berbatov, 4
Keane, 30

Referee: - Mr. C. Circhetta (Switzerland)

Attendance: - 11,134

Teams:-
Slavia Prague (4-4-2):- Vaniak; Drizdal, Latka, Brabec (Capt.), Hubacek; Jarolim (sub Kalivoda, 59), Suchy (sub Volesak, 83), Tavares, Pudil (sub Ivana, 46); Cerny, Strihavka

Subs not used: - Vorel; Sourek; Belaid

Booked: - Hubacek, Ivana, Tavares

Spurs (4-4-2):- Cerny; Tainio (sub O’Hara, 59), Woodgate, Zokora, Chimbonda; Lennon, Jenas, Huddlestone, Malbranque; Berbatov, Keane (sub Bent, 66)
(Armband to Jenas)
Subs not used: - Robinson; Lee, Kaboul, King; Taarabt

Booked: - Tainio, Jenas, O’Hara

Plenty of thrills and one spill

The Valentines’ Day Love-in at the Strahov Stadium started before kick-off when the home fans displayed a heart shaped greeting, directly at the Spurs fans, who were rather disparaging regarding what was a kind gesture, and who later in the day gave voice to a chant which was also disparaging of the event being celebrated in other venues!

The love-in looked like continuing as Spurs took an early lead, dominated the first half with some great skilful football, and made it a two goal lead which could and should have been at least 4 goals by half-time. Just when we were anticipating a dream situation next Thursday when Juande Ramos would be able to rest key players in advance of the Carling Cup Final, back came the home side to take advantage of a disastrous goalkeeping error by Radek Cerny, once the darling of this crowd, and subsequently subjected to the Czech version of “Dodgy Keeper”. Radek looked a little edgy after his mistake too, and it has come at a potentially bad time for him, as Paul Robinson must be licking his lips at the prospect of an outing next Thursday, and perhaps a chance to secure the jersey for the Carling Cup Final.

Once again Juande Ramos sprang a surprise or two. When we saw Didier Zokora’s name in the line-up, we naturally thought he would be in the middle next to Jenas. However, with Dawson injured, and Ledley King doing no more than bench warming, Zokora took up position next to Woodgate, and the two of them looked solid in the centre of defence, with Teemu Tainio less assured at right back, and Pascal Chimbonda doing a good job on the left. Ramos’s strategy allowed Tom Huddlestone to star in the midfield, where he suffered little in the way of pressure and physical challenge. This was Huddlestone’s game, and his passing skills set Spurs on their way to both goals, and led to numerous other chances. For good measure, Huddlestone had several shots on goal himself, hitting the top of the bar with one effort.

I can hardly remember a game when Spurs had so many shots on goal. The best of these included Berbatov’s double effort just before half time, leading to a double save from goalkeeper Vaniak, who had a busy night. Vaniak also made a great save from a Lennon deflected shot, and from a Berbatov free kick. Spurs did have numerous other chances to score, but too often put their shot too close to the keeper, or fired wide of a beckoning target.

It wasn’t all one –way traffic, and Slavia’s twin pronged attack of Jaroslav Cerny, playing behind Strihavka was well supported by Pudil on the left and Marek Jarolim on the right. Apparently, Jarolim is the son-in-law of the coach Karel Jarolim, whose son David left Slavia for Hamburg, for whom he scored in last night’s UEFA Cup matches. Don’t ask me how a son-in-law can also be called Jarolim, but that is what I was told by a local fan. There was no sign of former Liverpool midfielder Vladimir Smicer in last night’s Slavia Prague squad.

Spurs got off to a great start then with Lennon essentially part of the build up to the Spurs move. Jenas carried the ball into the box, and the ball was beaten away only as far as Berbatov lurking some 25 yards out. Dimitar lined up and struck a well placed shot to the right of the keeper for a great goal. Pudil had a chance to reply for the hosts here minutes later, when Tainio needlessly back headed a clearance into the path of the left winger, whose shot went across the goalmouth.

The next clear chance did not come until the 18th minute, when Lennon pulled the ball back for Berbatov, who hit a clever overhead flick into the path of Robbie Keane whose header went over the bar. Spurs displayed a lot of tricks throughout the game and it would seem the skills coach’s work is being well observed. However, there were times when I would have liked to have seen the team doing the simple thing and finding more of a balance between tricks and positive results.

After 26 minutes, Berbatov flicked on a Cerny ball, and Keane gave Lennon a chance on the right side. His shot was well saved by the keeper at his bottom left corner. Now came a second goal, and it was a clever short reverse pass from Huddlestone that started the move, and deserved results from his colleagues. Malbranque (who had a more frustrating game tonight, being caught too often in possession) carried on the move, which ended through Jenas’s good pass to Keane on the left channel, beating Vaniak with a low shot. Keane, Berbatov and another team mate then celebrated by pulling up the corner flag and riding it like a horse!

There was an end to end exchange after 38 minutes, where Huddlestone was caught in possession and a Slavia attack was repelled. Form the break, Keane fed his strike partner but Berbatov’s shot went over the bar. A quick throw by Cerny to Malbranque started the move from which Berbatov had his double shot on goal, and with Jenas firing wide when it looked easier to score, it was really hard to believe we were only two up at half time. A third goal was deserved by Spurs following a move between Berbatov and Huddlestone with tricky passes, ending with a chipped shot by Huddlestone that clipped the top of the bar. There was more skill from Lennon, whose chipped cross was met by Keane trying an overhead kick – going wide.

Slavia had a good effort on goal after 58 minutes. Berbatov had been penalised near the touchline and the referee allowed the free kick to be taken from a far more advantageous position. Tavares met the kick but headed over in front of his own fans. Tainio was replaced by Jamie O’Hara, who took over at left back, allowing Chimbonda to revert to the right. O’Hara thus made his first appearance in a European game, and made a great impact. He defended stoutly, challenged effectively well out from his goal, and made several creative passes down the line or inside from his position on the left. O’Hara is having a great time in the first team at present!

Vaniak made a terrific save, diving to his right to push away that deflected Lennon shot, and then after more skill between Keane and Berbatov, Lennon hit a rather tame shot to the keeper. Spurs were still attacking quite relentlessly, but just could not increase their lead. Lennon and Chimbonda worked down the right and a good ball was sent to O’Hara, whose deep cross was returned into the danger zone by Lennon. Keane tried a reaction shot, but it was just over the bar.

Almost inevitably, Spurs relinquished a strong lead, and in the most stupid way. Cerny sprang at his back post to catch a long cross from the left, dropped the ball, and watched Strihavka accept the grateful opportunity to put the ball over the line. It was one spill, that might not affect Spurs chances of winning this tie, but might have a radical effect upon Cerny’s ability to hold his place.

Berbatov was rather cynically brought down on the edge of the box, as he went on a typical run from left to right, and was about to shoot. Berbatov took the kick himself, and brought a great save from Vaniak, pushing the ball round the corner from his top right corner. After the corner and Lennon’s ball, substitute Darren Bent had a shot from close range that also hit the top of the bar. Huddlestone teed up Malbranque, who fired wide, but in the closing stages, with Cerny looking a little edgy, Prague did put us under some pressure. More accurate shooting on their part might have brought a dividend. They also had a header following a corner that hit the bar and rebounded safely into play.

Spurs are well placed, but should have been better placed to succeed in this tie, completed at White Hart Lane next Thursday.

The chant of the day in the eyes of some will be the insulting and inappropriate chant about Adebayor, but others will refer to one more relevant to yesterday’s occasion:-

“You can stick red roses up your arse,
You can stick red roses up your arse (repeat)
Cos we love Tottenham more than you!”

Not really darling!

· Squad numbers,appearances,bookings & goalscorers
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