UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE GROUP A
THURSDAY 15TH DECEMBER, 2011
SHAMROCK ROVERS 0 (0) TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 4
Referee:- Mr. Stephan Studer
Assistants:- Mr. Manuel Navarro & Mr. Sandro Pozzi
Fourth Official:- Mr. Ludovic Gremaud
Additional Assistants:- Mr. Alain Bieri & Mr. Nikolaj Hanni
Shamrock Rovers (4-2-3-1):- Brush; Sullivan, Oman, Murray (Capt.), Stevens; Rice (sub O’Donnell, 46), Turner; Dennehy, Finn (sub Twigg, 57), Paterson; Sheppard (sub Kilduff, 74)
Subs not used:- Thompson; McCabe, O'Neill, Ricketts
Booked:- Murray (foul on Giovani)
Spurs (4-2-3-1):- Cudicini; Ekotto (sub Falque, 84), Kaboul (Capt.), Livermore, Rose; Sandro, Kranjcar; Townsend, Giovani, Pienaar; Defoe (sub Kane, 76)
Subs not used:- Gomes; Carroll
Booked:- Kranjcar, Pienaar
Phew! That was close .....
.... we nearly qualified! The standing joke amongst the Spurs fans in the tiny Tallaght stadium was that Harry Redknapp did his best not to qualify for the knock-out stages of the Europa League by fielding another gash Tottenham team, which featured loads of left-footers, including two players on the right flank (Townsend and Ekotto), and players in unfamiliar positions (Kranjcar and Livermore). Spurs didn’t score until the 29th minute, but by then we had heard that Rubin Kazan were 1-0 down at an early stage, and that their goalkeeper had been sent off, we fans stupidly thought that something might be on the cards. Then, when we went 3-0 up before the break, the dream was on, and even Harry was “playing every ball” with his team.
By the end of an entertaining game, reality was restored because Rubin managed an equaliser which was always going to prevent Spurs qualifying, however many goals they scored. The fact that we did get a late, late goal did mean that had PAOK scored a late winner then we would have qualified, but Spurs had only themselves to blame for their failures earlier in the tournament. Harry can concentrate on achieving Champions League football in the second half of the season, which for Spurs is only 14 Premier League games old, so there is plenty of top class football to come for us fans.
The Tallaght stadium is neat enough in terms of the pitch and its three stands, but facilities are pathetic, with portaloos, minimal refreshment stalls, no clock and no scoreboard. I’d put it on a par with quite a few non-league English stadiums, and really not as good as that of Stevenage for example in League One. On the face of it the natives were friendly enough, sharing with us the fact that a certain Robbie Keane was brought up within half a mile of this ground, although of course Shamrock re-located from another part of town in recent years.
Yes, the natives were friendly, except perhaps those who stole a Spurs flag during the day, and the hard-core fans that ribbed Redknapp, getting a clenched fist salute in return (for which he will not be getting a rebuke from UEFA). I can recommend Mac Torcaills Bar in Townsend Street, where all beers (including the tasty black stuff) were three and a half Euros a pint as opposed to the six or seven Euros charged elsewhere. We did indeed have a good “craic”, in the company of plenty of Spurs fans in the City, not all of whom had managed to get a ticket. As always though, there were resourceful Spurs fans who found spaces within the home crowd. For example, I know one or two who were in the company of Spurs Listees, or Spurs Odyssey message board members.
In their very last game of a Championship winning season, the home side were celebrating that success and the last match of manager Michael O’Neill. It was also the first time they had hosted an English team in European competition for many a year. The home side presented spirited opposition, and Carlo Cudicini had to make one top class save in the second half from full back Sullivan. It was tricky to work out the Spurs formation for a while, but I think initially they tried to match the 4-2-3-1 of Rovers, with Kranjcar at the back of midfield with Sandro, and Townsend, Giovani and Pienaar across the midfield behind Defoe.
Until Harry switched Townsend to the left flank, Spurs had not attacked the goal with great relish, but the switch brought a surge of those mauve away shirts towards Brush’s goal, with Giovani on the right and Pienaar inside him.
Shamrock tested the Spurs goal first though, and in fact Paterson had the ball in the net, but had been ruled offside. Giovani go to the line after 5 minutes, and crossed for Defoe, whose shot was blocked. Livermore was somewhat under pressure as a make-shift centre back, where I do not recall him playing at any previous stage of his Spurs career (apart from a previous Europa League game this season). He conceded an early foul from which Oman sent a shot wide after the free kick.
After 21 minutes, Pienaar and Defoe had an excellent exchange of short passes, before Jermain’s shot was blocked. Rovers’ skipper Dan Murray took a booking for a foul on Giovani, and might have seen a second yellow card in the second half for another quite desperate foul. Kranjcar also took a card for relatively innocuous challenge. Danny Rose beat the goalkeeper with his deep cross, which landed on the bar and rebounded out to safety. Spurs took a welcome lead in the 29th minute, when Pienaar hit a good shot from the inside right position outside the box. The ball took a slight deflection and beat the home goalkeeper.
Spurs now had the bit between their teeth, and they broke well after good hold-up play and ball retention by Defoe near the half-way line. Defoe released Giovani for a run, and almost kept up with the little Mexican, as he made a bee-line for the right side of the area. Jermain just couldn’t quite get a decent enough touch on the cross which came his way. At the other end a shot by Paterson worried Cudicini, but passed over the bar.
Niko Kranjcar had already sent a delightful long cross to the right flank form his deep midfield position, and in the 38th minute he sent Defoe away. Defoe fed the ball to Townsend, who although he was on his best left side, hit a smashing long curling shot that beat Brush all ends up. Townsend might have had another, this time with his left foot, after receiving Danny Rose’s cross. Defoe initially lost a Townsend pass, but got the ball back, and hit a shot which was saved by the keeper. As the half-time whistle approached Townsend was showing a delightful touch down the left, and picked his moment to feed the ball to Defoe, who held, turned and fired home. My, the Spurs team even got into a huddle to celebrate. Maybe they were beginning to believe the dream, and maybe we fans were to witness a little bit of Spurs history, to see a qualification for the next round from such a seemingly impossible position.
It wasn’t to be though, and Spurs generally played with less intensity. (Some wags in the crowd suggested that Harry had had words to the effect that “if you’re not careful, you’ll qualify here!” at half-time). We did hear five minutes into the half that Rubin had equalised.
Jake Livermore incurred the wrath of the home crowd when he leant heavily on Sheppard as he approached the Spurs box in a goal-scoring opportunity. The referee showed no inclination to blow for this one. Spurs were grateful for the presence of Younes Kaboul (yet another Spurs captain), who could play because he is suspended from Sunday’s Sunderland game. There was a tackle in the box late in the game, when I swear the referee put his whistle to his mouth as if he was going to blow for a penalty, but declined.
Defoe was fouled at the other end, and Pienaar hit the free kick wide. Shamrock substitute O’Donnell hit a shot just over on the hour. Ekotto was getting forward more down the right flank, but of course he always had to cut back onto his left foot. He did however give Sandro a good chance, and the “Brazilian Yiddo” hit a shot which deceived the keeper but passed just wide. Another ball by Ekotto gave Defoe a chance, but he was challenged and no foul was awarded. Kaboul went on a run, and fed Defoe, who fired over. Townsend also had a shot blocked for a corner.
We were worried about a penalty shot as Cudicini seemed to bring down the lone striker in the Spurs box, but the offside flag was already up to rescue Spurs, and their keeper. Defoe was taken off at a relatively early stage, with half an eye no doubt on the Sunderland game, and Harry Kane had a run out. Kane had a good run through the middle, holding and carrying the ball nicely, but his shot was held. Sandro had a shot blocked, and Kranjcar hit a shot that passed wide across the far post from the left. A Giovani shot beat the goalkeeper but rebounded off the post. Cudicini’s best moment came with a flying dive to his left to push around a long shot by full back Sullivan.
Harry Kane’s late goal from close range (his first for the club at senior level) after a Townsend assist gave Spurs a cosy score-line, but that draw in Greece kept us out of any further involvement in this year’s Europa League. Spurs of course hope to avoid next year’s second level European competition. Let’s hope that Champions League dream is one that is kept alive!
Europa League Group A
P W D L F-A GD PTS
1. PAOK 6 3 3 0 10-6 4 12
2. Rubin Kazan 6 3 2 1 11-5 6 11
3. Spurs 6 3 1 2 9-4 5 10
4. Shamrock Rovers 6 0 0 6 4-19 -15 0