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Spurs v Lazio, Europa League- 20.09.12

EUROPA LEAGUE GROUP J
Match 1
THURSDAY 20TH SEPTEMBER, 2012
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 0(0) SS LAZIO 0(0)

Attendance:- 25,030

Referee:- Mr. Ovidiu Alin Hategan
Assistants:- Mr. Z. Szekely & Mr. O. Sovre
Fourth Official:- Mr. C. Constantinnica
Additional assistants:- Mr. A. Tudor, Mr. I. Kovacs
(All officials from Romania)

Teams:-
Spurs (4-2-3-1):- Lloris; Walker, Caulker, Vertonghen, Naughton; Sandro, Dembele (sub Mason, 90); Lennon (Capt.) (sub Townsend, 81), Dempsey (sub Sigurdsson, 75), Bale; Defoe (armband to Defoe)

Subs not used:- Cudicini; Gallas, Dawson; Huddlestone

No bookings

Lazio (4-5-1):- Marchetti; Cavanda, Biava, Dias, Lulic; Mauri (Capt.) (sub Ederson, 90), Ledesma, Onazi (sub Zarate, 80), Hernanes (sub Ciani, 90), Gonzalez; Klose

Subs not used:- Bizzarri; Scaloni, Kozak, Floccari

Booked:- Biava (foul on Lennon), Dias (foul on Bale), Gonzalez (foul on Lennon), Mauri (foul on Naughton)

Caulker denied "winner"

Spurs had the ball in the net three times in this opening fixture of their Europa League Group J programme, but none of the "goals" counted in the eyes of the Romanian referee, who also seemed to be a soft touch, allowing a lot of Italian cynical play before waving even one yellow card. There were several other challenges that would surely have been punished by a card in e English Premier League, but Lazio were allowed to take one point home with them.

In fairness to the visitors, they did have a Gonzalez shot hit the underside of the bar late in the first half, with debutant goalkeeper Hugo Lloris beaten. Lloris had an otherwise fairly uneventful game, but one thing that was noticeable was his willingness to come off his line to not only claim the ball, but also to hold cleanly.

Dembele had another excellent game, although he was perhaps guilty of running into trouble at times. Steven Caulker made his first appearance for the first team since a Carling Cup tie against Arsenal two years ago (almost to the day), and apart from one error in the first half, from which the defence quickly recovered, Caulker can be well satisfied with his performance. Apart from his coolness at the back, I was impressed with how he linked with Kyle Walker and Aaron Lennon two or three times, when getting forward down the right flank. Caulker was also unlucky to have a headed goal disallowed for an alleged push on Lazio skipper Stefano Mauri in the second half.

Aaron Lennon was captain, which was perhaps a reward for the fact he was the longest serving player in the starting line-up. Kyle Naughton gave another competent performance covering for the injured Benoit Assou-Ekotto.

Apart from Lloris for Friedel, the only changes to Sunday's starting line up were Caulker for Gallas, and Dempsey for Sigurdsson. Most of Spurs' success going forward was on the flanks, through Walker and Lennon on the right, and Bale and Naughton on the left. Dembele and Dempsey did keep trying to forge a path through the middle, but Lazio were playing it quite tight, with a five man midfield behind Klose. The Brazilian attacking midfielder Hernanes, was designed to be Klose's main assistant, but Lazio rarely threatened our defence to any great degree.

Not only space, but excitement was at a premium too. There was plenty of vocal support from the Lazio fans, who, at one stage, started a chant in support of Paul Gascoigne, which was applauded by the Spurs fans, who joined in. Sadly, there have also been suggestions of despicable racist monkey chants towards Jermain Defoe by the Italian fans.

There were plenty of empty seats, partly because the club did not put tickets on general sale, no doubt due to the large Italian community nearby in the Lea Valley.

There was excitement and anticipation after 8 minutes, when Lennon made a run and Walker put a ball inside the Bosnian left back Lulic, who had played against us in that Champions League play-off game two years ago for Young Boys, who at that time were also managed by current Lazio boss, Vladimir Petkovic. Lennon crossed, but the ball was headed safely back to the goalkeeper.

There was a dangerous Lazio cross from the left after 11 minutes, but Lloris might even have let the ball past him, as it went harmlessly to a wide area beyond him. One of those Caulker combinations with Walker and Lennon ended with a Lennon cross and a shot by Defoe.

Dembele battled his way forward and won a corner, following which he fed the ball to Lennon. Lennon's first cross came to nought but another exchange with Defoe forced a save from Marchetti, who then tipped a Bale shot over the bar.

Bale made his first switch, and put in a cross from the right which Dempsey headed home with a great forward dive. I did see the offside flag up before the "goal" and although it has been said the goal should have stood, the decision had already been made.

After another great piece of supply by Walker, Lennon crossed, but it led to nothing. Biava got the first yellow of the night when he brought down Lennon as he was charging into the box. The Italians were cynical when required, and they were allowed for too long, and too often to get away with such strategy.

Bale had a shot blocked after a cross from the right, and soon after that had a great run down the left, before the keeper dived forward to prevent his cross from finding Spurs legs. As the half was drawing to a close, Spurs had a fright when Gonzalez hit a shot from the right of the area, which bounced out off the underside of the bar, with Lloris beaten.

The second half was less entertaining. After some need for defence, Spurs broke out through the ever-industrious Sandro and Defoe. Lennon got into the box, and went down, but there was no penalty. Spurs had the ball in the net again, this time through Defoe, after a Bale cross from the left, but that dreaded flag was raised. Again, I saw the flag before the "goal".

Dias got the next card for a foul on Bale, but Gonzalez escaped any such punishment for another bad foul on Lennon. He did see yellow for his next offence though.

Spurs had a corner delayed due to the away fans hiding the ball, and it took a while for Spurs to find a replacement. When Bale did send the corner in, Caulker headed home, but was adjudged to have pushed a defender.

With that, the game, and Spurs chances fizzled out, except for a late headed chance for substitute Andros Townsend, taking Lennon's place on the right. Townsend headed Naughton's cross downward, and it bounced up awkwardly for the keeper, but was cleared.

In the other Group J game, Maribor beat Panathinaikos 3-0, so it looks as if the Slovenians are the main danger in the group apart from in-form Lazio.

Spurs home fans will be desperate to see a home win in our next game against QPR on Sunday.

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