EUROPA LEAGUE GROUP J
THURSDAY 25th OCTOBER, 2012
NK MARIBOR 1 (1) TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 1 (0)
Referee:- Mr Sergei Karasev
Assistants:- Mr A. Averianov & Mr. T. Kalugin
Fourth Official:- Mr D. Mosyakin
Additional assistants:- Mr. M. Layushkin & Mr. A. Nikolaev
Maribor (4-4-2):- Handanovic; Milec, Rajcevic, Arghus Soares, Mejac; Ibraimi, Mertelj, Cvijanovic, Mezga (sub Filipovic, 73); Beric, Tavares (Capt) (sub Komazec, 90) (Armband to Mertelj)
Subs not used:- Pridigar; Viler, Dodlek, Lesjak; Ploj
Booked:- Mezga (foul on Walker)
Spurs (4-2-3-1):- Lloris; Walker, Caulker, Vertonghen, Naughton; Huddlestone, Sandro (sub Livermore, 84); Lennon (Capt.), Sigurdsson (sub Dempsey, 75), Townsend (sub Falque, 46); Defoe
Subs not used:- Cudicini; Smith, Gallas; Parrett
Booked:- Naughton (simulation)
Only a draw in Maribor
Once again, despite fielding what was the strongest available side, Spurs disappointed for the third time in this year's Europa League, and could manage only a single point from their visit to Maribor in Slovenia.
It could have been worse though, as Maribor took a first half lead, and overall, threatened to score more than did Spurs. Lazio drew with Panathinaikos, so the group is still tightly packed, with Spurs two points behind the leaders and third on 3 points. As I said in my preview, our next two home games against Maribor and Panathinaikos will be crucial regarding the issue of our qualifying from the group.
Gareth Bale didn't travel, and Emmanuel Adebayor was still not fit enough to play a part, so AVB did field his strongest team, perhaps with the exception of Gallas resting on the bench. Jan Vertonghen moved inside, and Kyle Naughton took on the left back slot where he had impressed before injury. I should mention that Michael Dawson was also absent through illness, so the Spurs squad was quite sorely depleted when you add together all our absentees.
Unfortunately, neither of the Kyles impressed defensively. Naughton in particular left too much space at times, and was caught unawares on other occasions by the sprints down the right flank by one of Maribor's danger men - Agim Ibraimi, the Macedonian International.
Spurs stuck to their 4-2-3-1, whilst the hosts played a 4-4-2, that quickly became a 4-3-3 when they got the ball. Ibraimi concentrated on attack down the right, whilst on the left Mezga supported the defence more, but occasionally came forward.
Whenever Spurs got forward, Maribor marked them tightly, and there were always two men on Aaron Lennon,who again skippered the side tonight.
Spurs took some time to get used to the pitch, and perhaps they never truly adjusted, with too many players slipping over too easily, whilst the home team, looked at ease. I suspect that we were on blades and not studs.
The atmosphere for a 13,000 crowd was good. We had followed a good-humoured group of home fans to the stadium, led by a brass band, and followed by riot police, who had apparently given the supporters a final warning after trouble in a recent "Derby" match. I saw no malice, just passion, and when after 13 minutes of the game, the home crowd instantaneously unfurled a massive banner displaying their colours and what looked like a menacing "hoodie", Spurs fans broke out into "Are you Terry in disguise?"
There was a good turn-out from the Spurs fans, who numbered more than had been in Athens, and made plenty of noise, particularly with a long running chant of "AVB"s Blue and White Army"
Kyle Walker did get forward and got a good cross into the box, where Sigurdsson had a golden chance in front of goal, but fired a poor effort wide of the post. Huddlestone got into the box after an attacking throw, and with two touches gave himself half a chance, but the ball was cleared off his feet.
Naughton's best offering to the game was about four or five truly magnificent cross-field passes, but when up against Ibraimi, he struggled. After one such occasion on 21 minutes, Lloris was on hand to stop a goal.
After one of Naughton's successful passes Spurs attacked through Walker and Defoe, and Sigurdsson was again in a scoring position, but needed a left foot shot, which he could not manage.
Sigurdsson had another chance, this time a header from Huddlestone's floated free kick, but Handanovic saved easily. After a patient build-up, the ball fell to Sandro who tried a long shot with a firm left foot, missing the post by a foot or two.
Spurs were generally too slow in their build-up, allowing the defence to cover. They desperately missed the pace of Bale, and the penetrative ball-carrying ability of Dembele. We must hope that both are available on Sunday at Southampton.
Another nice attack followed a Naughton long ball to Lennon. There was a chipped pass by Huddlestone, a touch by Sandro, and an attempted hooked left footed shot by Defoe that passed over the bar.
Sandro was giving it all to the game, winning most of his midfield battles, only occasionally being pulled up by the Russian referee.
Townsend sadly was not at all effective, and actually lost the ball in midfield, when Mezga carried the ball forward and got into the Spurs box in an area which should have been covered by Walker, and perhaps Caulker too. Mezga got in a low cross from deep inside the area, and Beric fired home in front of the home fans' goal.
I should mention that I felt Caulker was the most solid of our defenders over the course of the game. Even Vertonghen did not look as convincing as usual.
Townsend did get forward and went to the floor on the very edge of the Maribor area. It looked for a moment that the referee was going to give at least a free kick, but one of those pesky additional officials indicated to him that it was a goal-kick.
That was Townsend's last contribution, and Yago Falque was seen warming up during the interval, replacing Andros immediately after the break. Falque was more effective too, and would play a big part in the Spurs equaliser.
Mezga took a booking when he cynically brought Walker's sprint down the line to a stop.
Mejac got a low ball into the Spurs area, and Tavares' shot was held by Lloris. Again Ibraimi had the beating of Naughton, but the advancing Cvijanovic fired his effort over the Spurs bar.
Then Spurs equalised after Falque got into the box on the left, hitting a cross shot that was half cleared by the keeper. Defoe's follow-up was somehow blocked by Mejac, but the Maribor defence could do nothing about Sigurdsson's close range finish.
Spurs tried to follow-up their success, when Lennon intercepted in midfield, Falque crossed, but the goalkeeper cleared from Sigurdsson.
At the other end, that man Ibraimi had too much space, but fortunately fired wide. Beric got forward down the left flank, and fed the ball back into the mix, where Huddlestone's headed clearance fell to Mertelj, whose powerful shot from distance was held cleanly by Lloris.
Naughton got into the Maribor box, and went down. It looked like he got a booking for simulation to me.
Falque showed fine skill when heading the ball over his defender, turning and successfully chasing the ball, before hitting a cross shot that the goalkeeper could only parry, but the defence cleared.
At times both Vertonghen and Caulker would get forward to try and add power to the attack. On one such occasion, Vertonghen tried a pot-shot, which went just wide of the post. In the end, it was the home crowd that were urging the referee to blow the final whistle.
All is not lost for Spurs, who play Maribor at home in two weeks' time.
Pos P W D L F-A GD Pts
1. Lazio 3 1 2 0 2-1 1 5
2. Maribor 3 1 1 1 4-2 2 4
3. Spurs 3 0 3 0 2-2 0 3
4. Panathinaikos 3 0 2 1 2-5 -3 2
Other game played tonight:-
Panathinaikos 1-1 Lazio