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Spurs v Spartak Moscow, 18.12.08


Spurs scorers:-
Modric, 68
Huddlestone, 74

Spartak scorer:-
Dzuba, 23, 33

Referee: - Mr. P. Proenca (Portugal)

Attendance: - 28,906

Spurs (4-4-1-1):- Gomes; Gunter, Dawson (Capt.), Zokora, Gilberto (sub Lennon, 46); Bentley, Huddlestone, O’Hara, Bale; Modric; Campbell

Subs not used: - Cesar; Ekotto, Dervite; Bostock, Parrett; Obika

No bookings

Spartak (4-4-2):- Pletikosa; Parshivluk, Fathi, Jiranek (Capt.), Rodriguez; Shishkin (sub Bazhenov, 85), Covalciuc, Rizhkov (sub Grigorev, 60), Saenko; Dzuba, Maloyan (sub Zotov, 73)

Subs not used: - Dzhanaev; Stranzl, Pavlenko, Prudnikov

No bookings

Nearly a Nightmare before Christmas!

It was nearly a nightmare before Christmas, as Spurs UEFA chances could have gone for a Burton, as they fell two goals behind to Spartak Moscow at half-time. However, Harry Redknapp unwrapped the present of Aaron Lennon in place of the dud Gilberto, and coupled with good application on the part of the whole team a draw was achieved which was enough to ensure qualification to the round of 32 as second place members of Group D. That nightmare scenario would have been fulfilled had we remained two goals down, because N.E.C. conquered group winners Udinese by the requisite two goals, which could have left Spurs high and dry. Bearing in mind Harry Redknapp’s recent quote about “you’d have to be useless not to qualify from this phase”, the Cockerel very nearly came home to roost!

There were no less than 7 changes to the starting line-up. Some were enforced, whilst others were made with a view to Sunday’s Premier League game at Newcastle. The decision to grant Gilberto only his second start of the season was mystifying though, with Bale starting in the midfield, and Ekotto left on the bench. Gilberto was the main culprit in the mix-up that led to Dzuba’s first goal, and despite a few early promising touches in the opponents’ half, Gilberto was removed and has probably played his last game for Spurs, as even Harry admitted afterwards that there was no way back for him after that performance.

Michael Dawson captained the side, and Didier Zokora was his partner. Sadly they looked less than comfortable most of the night. Despite the presence of Huddlestone and O’Hara in the central midfield, the defence was not sufficiently protected by bite in the middle, and whilst Spurs showed early promise through the skill of both O’Hara and Modric going forward, it was Spartak who gave Spurs more worries in the area. Redknapp was sorely limited up front, with only Fraizer Campbell of his three first team strikers available to play. Campbell was energetic, enthusiastic and unlucky not to score when Spurs had clawed their way back to equality, but Spartak’s keeper somehow made a point blank save.

There were plenty of empty spaces in the ground and cash could be paid at some turnstiles to get in last night. Bearing in mind the fact the game was not on television, it does make you wonder if we would consistently fill that proposed glossy new stadium. Maybe Spurs need to re-think their pricing strategy, as Cat C charges were made last night.

Those present were a little subdued, and those absent might have been complacent in assuming that qualification was assured, but as we saw, all could have been lost. The early skill of O’Hara and Modric was in the form of Jamie’s sprayed passes and Luka’s ability to squeeze his way past and around men in those tight situations. Other team members, including Gilberto, were part of the bright Spurs start, which featured sharp passing and little touches of skill that looked like a straight lift from the training ground. However, the Spartak left back Argentinean Clemente Rodriguez, showed his team-mates the path to goal as he led an attack, taking a return pass as he entered the Spurs area only to be thwarted by the alert Gomes at his feet.

O’Hara sent a great long pass to the competent Chris Gunter down the right. Gunter’s cross was met by the head of Modric, but mis-directed. Maloyan then tried to find the feet of Dzuba with a neat ball inside the Spurs area, but again, Gomes was wise to the plan. After 14 minutes Dzuba back-heeled the ball neatly to Rizhkov, who hit a good low shot that was held by Gomes. Spartak was presented with a gift of a goal, when Bale tried a back-pass from the touch-line, and despite sharing nationality, there was a mix-up between Gilberto and Gomes, as Gilberto failed to move for the ball which was falling shot for the keeper. Dzuba stole in and slipped the ball under the keeper, who had been left in the lurch by Gilberto. Rizhkov then had another powerful shot from outside the area, which may have been finger-tipped wide by Gomes, as a corner was awarded.

Gilberto might have made amends for his error as he got forward and after an exchange with Modric, had the ball stolen off his feet as he reached a shooting position. O’Hara and Campbell broke into Spartak territory for Spurs with an exciting run that ended in a dangerous cross by O’Hara that passed through the 6 yard zone. Pletikosa then fisted away a Huddlestone pile-driver, and O’Hara put a shot just wide after another exciting Spurs move involving Zokora, Modric, Campbell and Bentley.

However, Spurs fell two goals behind as Dzuba retained possession in the deep and left all white shirts standing as he pierced the defence leaving Gomes un-protected and startled. Gomes came to the edge of his area, but Dzuba fired home. The 150 Russian fans in the lower south-west corner sniffed glory. Bentley was fouled on the right and took the free kick himself, delivering for Dawson who headed over. Gomes had to make one more save from Dzuba, with his legs too!

I should mention that I have never seen so much writhing and fake agony by supposedly crippled players. The Spartak physio was required on the pitch only just before the end of the game. Referee Mr Proenca was pretty much on the ball all night, although he might have carded one or two of the Russian equity candidates.

On came Lennon, and Bale withdrew to left back. Bentley played ahead of Bale, and combined with him well on several occasions, one of which bore fruit in the shape of Huddlestone’s equaliser, but it was the presence of Lennon and the commitment of the team that personified the Spurs second half charge which got us the result we needed. Campbell had an early header saved after an O’Hara cross, and Jamie also sent a good long ball to Fraizer from the deep midfield. Campbell managed the work the ball into a shooting position but fired wide weakly on this occasion. Bale crossed for Modric who just needed too many touches before hitting the ball to the keeper.

Zokora made an almost disastrous attempt at an overhead clearance which left Gomes needing to make another save, but apart from this incident the Spurs defence was largely un-threatened and pretty secure in the second half.

Spurs’ first goal came in the 68th minute, when Lennon and Gunter got down to the right hand corner, and Lennon cut the ball back perfectly for Modric to sweep the ball home for his first official club goal 6 minutes later spurs were level after a good move down the left flank by Bentley and Bale. It was Bale who crossed from near the flag, and Huddlestone who times his run and rose beautifully to head home the so-important equaliser in front of the Paxton Lane crowd.

Now the Russian keeper was under pressure, as he failed to hold a stinger from Bentley, but held Bale’s header from the resultant corner. Another Bentley/Bale combination led to Bale’s cross, and a close ranger header by Campbell, somehow stopped by the keeper, whilst Fathi tried to win sympathy by writhing on the line.

Spartak’s misery was completed then by their elimination from another European competition, and their probably absence from European competition next season, as they have finished mid-table in their league. It was a shame that some of the Spurs youngsters did not get a chance to come off the bench (I saw some excited and proud parents in the crowd), and in the Round of 32, which is being drawn today, Harry is likely to need all the experience available to progress further in this competition.

UEFA CUP Round Two Group D Final Table:-
		     P  W  D  L  F-A  PTS
1. Udinese           4  3  0  1  6-4   9
2. Spurs             4  2  1  1  7-4   7
3. NEC               4  2  0  2  6-5   6
4. Spartak  Moscow   4  1  1  2  5-6   4
3. Dinamo Zagreb     4  1  0  3  4-9   3

· Squad numbers,appearances,bookings & goalscorers
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