Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tottenham 1 PAOK Salonika 2

Spurs' future in the Europa League is no longer in their hands.  Defeat at home to PAOK sees the Greek side qualified for the knock-out stages while Spurs must have a convincing win over Shamrock Rovers and rely on PAOK defeating Rubin Kazin.

Tottenham Hotspur 1 PAOK Salonika 2
Scorers: Modric (p)            Salpingidis, Athanasiadis

Team: Gomes; Corluka, Gallas, Bassong, Rose (Bale); Lennon, Livermore, Modric, Pienaar (Walker); Kane (Falque), Defoe.  Subs (unused): Cudicini, Fredericks, Townsend, Carroll.

Luka Modric - penalty
Tottenham fielded their strongest team yet for a Europa League group game with Aaron Lennon, Luka Modric and Jermain Defoe starting.  Danny Rose and Harry Kane were the only younger players selected with experienced squad players and those recovering from injury making the starting line-up - William Gallas, Sebastien Bassong, Vedran Corluka, Stephen Pienaar and Heurelho Gomes.

From the outset Spurs had the majority of possession but PAOK denied them time and were quick to step in and pick up a loose or misdirected pass.  Spurs were casual in their approach and paid for it after five minutes.  Gallas meandered into the visitors half and was caught in possession which gave PAOK the opportunity to break quickly on the left, from where a nice cross into the penalty area found Salpingidis unmarked and he carefully headed the ball past Gomes.

Tottenham didn't learn from their mistake and found it difficult to make progress into the visitors penalty area as they defended with patience and considerable ability.  On thirteen minutes they broke up a ponderous Spurs attack and with a lovely pass to the left found Corluka lacking in pace and a low cross was hit home by Athanasiadis.  The Tottenham defence was again caught flat footed with Gallas and Bassong looking as if they'd never played together.

PAOK contuinued with their patient defensive work and swift counter attacks which nearly brought further reward while Spurs had a lot of possession without ever threatening on goal.  Much of their passing was slow and frequently fell down through inaccuracy.  On the half hour Spurs gained some momentum, urged on by the crowd.  Harry Kane shot wide and Defoe had a shot saved by the goalkeeper.  Then from the corner Corluka's shot was blocked and fell to Kane whose shot was blocked on the line.  The referee awarded a penalty for handball and sent off the defender.  Modric sent the goalkeeper the wrong way to score and brought Spurs back into the match.

PAOK survived to the interval without much bother and then in the second half set out to defend and deny Spurs which they did heroically.  The whole of the second period saw Spurs attack and the visitors defend with nine men back.  Gareth Bale and Kyle Walker were introduced to add pace but no matter how hard they tried they couldn't break down the stubborn PAOK defence.  The nearest they came to a goal was when Defoe scored but amid confusion, it was disallowed for a foul on the defender who had been lying on the goal line for almost a minute.  In the lead up, Iago Falque had a shot blocked but Defoe had fouled the defender in trying to reach the loose ball.  However, play continued and when the ball came to Defoe he put it in the net.  No-one was sure what decision the referee had given but he had actually made the correct decision even if he'd come to it by an uncertain route.

For all their possession against ten men, Spurs couldn't create any real scoring chances and PAOK worked tirelessly to deny them.  During five minutes of added time the best Spurs could offer was a Bale free-kick which was saved easily by the goalkeeper and then PAOK celebrated as if they'd qualified for the knock-out stages, which, of course, they had.  For Spurs, they must rely on a PAOK home win against Rubin Kazan who are three points ahead of them.  Spurs will then need to win by five goals against Shamrock Rovers to have a better goal difference that the Russians.

The greatest disappointment about this defeat was that the most experienced team that Harry Redknapp has fielded in the group stage has given the poorest performance.  In the other matches, the younger players battled in difficult circumstances and showed a great determination throughout.  The experienced squad players were very ponderous and showed a lack of match sharpness - the passing was poor, there was little urgency to the game and they paid dearly for their early mistakes.  It looks as if Spurs will now be able to concentrate on the Premier League as their continued presence in the Europa League is looking distinctly unlikely.

Only a good result over Bolton Wanderers on Saturday will take away the disappointment of this match.


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