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PAOK v Spurs, 15.09.11

GROUP A – Match One

Attendance:- 24,000

Referee:- Mr. Milorad Mazic
Assistants:- Mr. Milovan Ristic & Mr. Igor Radojcic
Fourth Official:- Mr. Vlado Glodjovic
Additional assistants:- Mr. Bosko Jovanetic & Mr. Milenko Vukadinovic
(All officials are from Serbia)

PAOK (4-4-2):- Kresic; Etto, Contreras (C), Malezas, Lino; Salpingidis, Arias, Garcia, Vieirinha; Fotakis (sub Ivic, 62), Athanasiadis

Subs not used:- Chalkias; Sznaucner; Balafas, Robert, Tsoukalas; Papazoglou

Booked:- Arias (foul on Livermore), Garcia, Fotakis (foul on Livermore)

Spurs (4-4-1-1):- Cudicini; Walker, Corluka, Bassong (Capt.), Townsend; Falque (sub Fredericks, 81), Livermore, Carroll, Giovani (sub Parrett, 90+); Kane; Pavlyuchenko

Subs not used:- Gomes; Barthram, Stewart; Pritchard, Nicholson

Booked:- Kane (alleged simulation), Cudicini (alleged foul conceding penalty), Corluka (foul), Carroll, Giovani

To Hell and Back!

The Toumbas stadium can be a dark and foreboding place for any away team and their fans!

The Greek newspapers made reference to Spurs Odyssey’s “Black Hell” headline, and those of us who did make the trip to Thessaloniki (also known as Thessalonika, or Salonika) can vouch for the cauldron-like atmosphere generated by the black and white unformed partisan home crowd. Bearing in mind the known heated environment awaiting Spurs, it was all the more surprising really that Harry Redknapp chose such a young and inexperienced side. Even the team news sent by Spurs found the need to point out the standing of half of the subs bench, three of whom had never had a previous sniff of first team football.

Our kids did themselves proud! Carlo Cudicini won some plaudits for his so important late saves, and Spurs got out of jail when a late shot bounced down off the underside of the bar and was cleared, but the draw was the least that Spurs deserved. The likes of debutant Iago Falque, and rookies Jake Livermore, Tom Carroll, and Harry Kane must have grown two inches and gained so much in terms of football maturity from an experience they will be entitled to remember for the rest of their days. It’s sad that only some 243 Spurs fans made the trip, but it was expensive, and it was so soon after the draw for this Europa League Group stage. I didn’t manage the trip to Besiktas in 2006, but I am told that the atmosphere in the Toumbas Stadium was second only to that. I’m certainly glad that I made the trip, and I won’t forget it either.

The young Spurs side looked like minnows really in the face of the noise and passion generated not only in the build-up to the game, but throughout. Any time Spurs were in possession, the whistles and jeers were directed in great decibels. The “Gate 4” flag and other massive PAOK flags were regularly displayed. Despite UEFA regulations, firecrackers were regularly set off.

And yet, our young side played with such control, and calm in the face of such hostility. We started with Falque playing on the right and Harry Kane playing behind Pavlyuchenko, and Giovani on the left. It wasn’t too long however before Giovani and Falque switched, and Kane drew back a little. We had to defend stoutly, with young full backs Walker and Townsend tested to the full. Walker was the more experienced of the two, but over the course of the game he was probably more sorely tested by the pace and skill of Portuguese winger Adelino Vieirinha, who would turn up in central shooting positions too. Bassong, given the Captain’s armband, did well, and if anything, Vedran Corluka was guilty of mis-placed clearances, but clearances were made. Townsend was excellent going forward, but needed help when Salpingidis cut inside.

The defence got help from a real young hero – Jake Livermore – who has always been a box to box man, but made so many vital tackles, wins in the middle, and creativity up front. Little Tom Carroll also drew appreciation from Spurs fans with a game that defied his stature, and some cool passing. Falque looks an exciting prospect, but to be honest, it has to be said that Giovani and Pavlyuchenko did not make the most of their opportunities. Giovani was guilty in the second half of laziness, when losing the ball, and failing to chase back, claiming injury, but it was a weak claim, and his lack of effort was not missed by the travelling fans.

Despite the pressure, Spurs were holding their own. Falque impressed when breaking a move and winning the ball in the PAOK half, feeding the ball to Harry Kane, but unfortunately this move broke down. PAOK have a man called Etto, different spelling I know, and he plays at right back, doesn’t get paid £18 million a year, and comes from Croatia. Etto offered some danger with a cross after 9 minutes, that Spurs cleared at the second attempt. At the other end, great play by Livermore gave Falque a chance which was not fired with the power desired, but still had to be cleared off the line by PAOK skipper Contreras.

Vieirinha had a shot that was deflected for a corner, before at the other end, Kane sent Giovani away with a good ball, but the move broke down. Townsend’s cross was met by Giovani again, but blocked, then a Carroll chip was headed to the keeper by Pavlyuchenko, who might have done better. Spurs were actually looking like taking the lead, and when Kane went down in the area, it looked like a penalty, but the Serbian referee decided it was simulation, booking Kane. Serbia is not that far from Greece, is it?

Fun and games came at the other end, when Cudicini was deemed to committed a foul, as the ball seemed to run out of play anyway. Cudicini also got booked. PAOK’s left back, the Brazilian Lino scored, and raced to the corner flag near the Spurs section to celebrate. It took quite a while to draw his attention to the fact that the referee wanted the kick re-taken due to encroachment! Cudicini seemed to move for the re-take, and with some advertising hoarding blocking my view a bit, I thought he had made a save, but Lino had put the shot wide!

Pavlyuchenko took a free kick at the other end, which we thought had gone in the net, but it hit the safety net just above the bar. Cudicini was down and alert to a shot by Athanasiadis, as half-time loomed. Our team might have had a lead, let alone keep on even terms.

The Spurs team slowed down a little as the game wore on, but Jake Livermore was still drawing fouls by PAOK players. After 55 minutes, Townsend crossed to the back post, and the PAOK keeper seemed to push Pavlyuchenko. The ball ran to Falque, whose shot went wide across the goalmouth. PAOK were putting us under more and more pressure, but not hitting the target. Corluka got his yellow card when Lino had got away inside Walker, and “Charlie” had to end the threat by unfair means. At the other end, Carroll got a yellow for taking a free kick too quickly.

This threatening situation arose after Vedran Corluka was booked

Cudicini made a fantastic diving save from an overhead kick by Athanasiadis, and then as added time loomed, another save from Vieirinha. The same player sent in a late cross from the left, which was headed onto the bar, down and cleared. Spurs had survived, with a decent point, and a proud performance by the youngsters.

As usual, we were held in the ground for a considerable time, and waggishly chanted “We can see you creeping out”, and “Where’s your famous atmosphere” as the home fans took a long time to leave. Three of them even came across the pitch accompanied by a steward after the game to the Spurs section, but all they wanted was a photograph. Perhaps the PAOK bark is worse than their bite, after all.

Additional pictures available here

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