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Udinese v Spurs, 24.10.08

UEFA CUP ROUND TWO (Game One)
THURSDAY 23RD OCTOBER, 2008
UDINESE CALCIO 2 (1) TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 0 (0)

Scorers:-
Di Natale (pen), 24
Pepe, 86

Referee: - Mr. F. Brych (German)

Attendance: - 22,000

Teams:-
Udinese (4-4-2):- Handanovic; Motta, Coda, Domizzi, Lukovic (sub Pasquale, 89); Sanchez (sub Pepe, 79), Gokhan, D’Agostino, Isla; Quagliarella (sub Flore Flores, 86), Di Natale (Capt.)

Subs not used: - Koprivec; Sala, Ferronetti; Obodo

Booked: - Lukovic, D’Agostino, Isla

Spurs (4-5-1):- Gomes; Hutton, Woodgate (sub Giovani, 64), King (Capt.), Ekotto (sub Modric, 46); Lennon, Jenas, Zokora, O’Hara, Bale; Bent

Subs not used: - Cesar; Dawson, Gilberto, Gunter; Campbell

Booked: - Gomes, O’Hara, Bale

Sent off: - O’Hara, 57 (Second bookable offence)

Not the Italian Job

Spurs Chairman Daniel Levy was reportedly on business in America, but more than likely on holiday in Florida. He could easily fit the bill to be cast as the Noel Coward character in “The Italian Job” (Mr Bridger). You may recall that “Mr. Bridger” was unavoidably in absentia, and appointed Michael Caine’s character to take charge of a big heist in Italy. Spurs coach Juande Ramos might not be suitably cast as the Michael Caine character (can’t quite imagine him saying “I only told you to blow the bloody doors off”!), but Damien Comolli could fit the bill as the Benny Hill comedy character, as Spurs tried a UEFA Cup raid in Italy.

Rumour has it that David Bentley was in Ramos’s bad books, having been quoted as admitting that Spurs were “sh*t” in this week’s papers. Perhaps it was his punishment to be relegated to non-playing member of the squad, although he was sighted in the Spurs party. Having said that of course, Bentley’s form has been such not to guarantee him a place in the threadbare Spurs squad this season.

Ledley King made a guest appearance beside Jonathan Woodgate, but to be honest, poor Ledley no longer looks as if he has 90 minutes in his legs, despite his long breaks between games. It was sad to watch him in the latter stages of the game, struggling to match the pace of Udinese strikers Quagliarella and 31 year old Captain Di Natale. The Spurs team had checked out of the hotel I stayed in, just before my arrival, and my room was labelled “Tottenham Hotspur Massage Room”. No doubt the masseurs had been busy, but as we saw, it was all to no avail.

I met a Croatian supporter before the game, who had travelled 200 miles across Slovenia to see this game, and watch one of his favourite players – Luka Modric. I had the sad task to inform him that Luka was only on the bench, but when we did see him early in the second half, there was some quality inter-play between Modric and Lennon. Sadly, after Jamie O’Hara foolishly got himself sent off, Modric moved to the left side, and Spurs’ already blunt attack was further diminished.

Perhaps Juande has prioritised Sunday’s relegation battle with Bolton, reducing Modric’s time on the pitch in this game. That could also be the reason for the early removal of Jonathan Woodgate, who will be needed on Sunday, in order to accommodate Giovani and seek to get a vital equaliser in this first of four group games.

The Spurs formation sadly resembled the frame of a bucket at times. Darren Bent was of course alone in the middle up front, with Lennon and Bale on the flanks. Sadly, the central three midfielders did not seem to move in conjunction with their wingers, as they would too often have the ball in good positions with insufficient support. When defending, that midfield would often be leaving too much space for the fit, fast and well organised Udinese side, who were so often able to find their team-mates with accurate passes. The Udinese men also had more strength on the ball, easily brushing aside our lightweight middle men, and too easily being allowed to challenge the defence.

There is a hole in the Spurs bucket too, where all traces of confidence in character and ability to keep or play the ball well are too rapidly fading away. This is a team in serious demise.

And yet, there were times in the first half, when Jenas and Lennon in particular got the ball to good positions, but where for one reason or another, delivery was poor or just not forthcoming. O’Hara played his part in front of the back four, but like his colleagues was found lacking in front of goal, and at dead ball situations. Gareth Bale probably has his worst game in a Spurs shirt, with poorly delivered corners, free kicks, and poorly controlled ball play on too many occasions. Gomes will have suffered abuse and criticism over his gaffe in conceding a penalty and thus the vital first goal for Udinese, but once again, he made some good saves, and one spectacular late save from Di Natale.

Overall, it is no surprise that the travelling fans were relatively quiet in their open air position the wrong side of an athletics track keeping us further from the action. It was also no surprise when at the end of the game those fans chanted at the players “You should care as much as us!”. Perhaps this was a little harsh but there were times when the players were not giving that extra half yard of effort that often reaps a reward.

Spurs did have a bright start, playing towards their fans, but against the wind, with Bale prominent at this point, getting to the bye line, but not quite delivering. After that though, Udinese put us under pressure with good work from Di Natale, and a couple of threatening free kicks from midfielder D’Agostino. The second of these was headed wide by Quagliarella, who alongside his Captain was always a threat to the Spurs defence. Lennon was getting plenty of ball, and was in a good position just outside the box, with no support, when he appeared to be clearly fouled by Lukovic. The referee must have been looking the wrong way as a free kick was surely an easy decision to give. Once again, in Europe we seemed to be victims to a referee favouring the home side, who were often allowed to get away with stiff challenges.

Jenas did some great work to get through the defence and to the line, but Bent made an awful effort of putting strength into his header. O’Hara also had a shot on goal go wide, after a Spurs free kick was half cleared. At this stage, Spurs were looking fairly comfortable, but then fell a goal behind in stupid circumstances. A needless back pass from 45 yards was initially dribbled by Gomes, but the keeper was quickly closed down by an opponent, who Gomes fouled near the edge of his area, trying to retrieve the ball. The referee awarded a penalty and showed Gomes yellow. Di Natale confidently put the spot kick beyond the reach of Gomes. Once again, Spurs were behind to a silly goal, and had it not been for that error, they should have been on level terms.

Gomes made a save from a cheaply conceded corner, and then Bale put a free kick on top of the net. The kick had been quite fortunately won by Bent, who had lost the ball, but won a foul. After a Bale corner, Alan Hutton struggled to get the ball from around his feet and forge a shooting chance, before the ball fell to O’Hara, outside the box, who fired over. O’Hara took over at left back after Ekotto was replaced by Modric, but despite that early play by Modric and Lennon, Spurs failed to test the keeper.

Gomes made a save from Sanchez, who then gave the referee every encouragement to book Jamie O’Hara for a foul. The referee obliged and then showed no mercy when Jamie committed the same offence a minute later. The days when Spurs could cope with a 4-4-1 have gone, since the departure of Berbatov to Manchester, and with only one exception, Spurs struggled for the rest of the game. Even Ledley was struggling in his own area when the free kick came in, but Gomes saved Domizzi’s effort. Gomes made the save of the match, when Di Natale tried to chip him. Gomes literally flew backwards and sideways to touch the ball away from his top let corner. Giovani came on for Woodgate and offered some bright moments, but again there was no end product.

The best Spurs move of the game came when Bent did win a header up front and laid it off, when it was picked up by Giovani, who crossed for Bent to head goalward, but to be thwarted by the Udinese keeper. Sadly, the game was up for Spurs, when after that effort, they were caught on the hop by a counter-attack, which ended with Pepe scoring, despite a slightly mis-hit shot.

Returning to The Italian Job theme, at the end of this game, the coach is teetering on the brink, but Sunday’s game is the far more crucial test, and potential decider regarding his future.

· Squad numbers,appearances,bookings & goalscorers
· Read the preview for this game.

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