a long time since the Lilywhite shirt graced Europe and it will have to
wait another two weeks, as Spurs overcame Slavia Prague 1-0 in the
chocolate and gold change kit on a humid Czech night.
In truth, it wasn't as great a performance as it was
seeing Tottenham back in the UEFA Cup after a break of seven years.
Slavia are a young, but poor side and with a bit more cutting edge,
Spurs should really have put them to the sword. However, deprived
of Berbatov and Lennon, Spurs managed to put together a showing that was
enough to win the leg and keep a clean sheet. That was not too
hard, with Slavia not getting in on Tottenham's goal until halfway
through the second half to make Robinson make a save. Having said
that, it was not a great attacking performance from Spurs, who had few
clear chances, but should have travelled back to London with more than
one goal to show for their endeavours.
It was about time we saw Tom Huddlestone in the
midfield, but somewhat surprising that he was preferred to Dutchman
Edgar Davids. And it was also pleasing to see Didier Zokora taking
a grip on midfield and dictating play, although there was little
opposition to his promptings.
With Mido and Defoe up front, both closed down
quickly, while both also took a bit of a bashing from the physical Czech
defence. Mido put in a low left wing cross early on, but Defoe
could not get to it, while it took 23 minutes before the home side
caused a little concern in the Tottenham back four. A high headed
ball into the area brought Paul Robinson out to punch clear.
Robbo's opposite number
had to leave the pitch five minutes later, when he
collapsed after taking a goal-kick. He had pulled a groin and
after the Paraguay World Cup match, Paul must be thinking he is being
protected from such maladies. The keeper had to leave the pitch,
allowing the young
to take over between the posts and his naivety showed as he rushed out
for crosses and dropped the ball. Nerves seemed to be getting the
better of him.
He made a very good save, when a corner
was played long to Chimbonda, whose header back across goal was well
pushed out by the goalie. Not so good was Brazilian striker
Gaucho's tackle on Huddlestone, which might well have been worth a red,
with his studs being in contact with Tom's shin. Huddlestone came
back on, clearly limping, but wanting to carry on. Then in the
38th minute, Tottenham took the lead.
It was Huddlestone who broke down a
Slavia attack, with a pass out to Mido, the Egyptian laid it off for
Zokora to take on. His long run was only ended, when he played a
well weighted pass to the space in front of Jenas' run and without
hesitation and not breaking his run, struck the ball first time, low and
true into the bottom left corner of the net. It was a well-taken
goal, with Jenas striking the ball in textbook fashion, across the
keeper to make it difficult for him to save.
Going in at half-time with a lead, Tottenham
looked satisfied with their efforts, but the lead was almost doubled
soon after the restart. Zokora again made his presence felt,
providing a good run and a controlled cross for Defoe to meet with his
head, but Kozacik was there to save without too much trouble.
As the game changed to the other end, Gaucho
put a pacy free-kick in, with a Slavia head getting to it, but unable to
direct it goalwards. It was the start of a period of home pressure
for about ten minutes, but few real moments of panic came Tottenham's
way. Hrdlicka got the ball as a clearance reached him and fired in
a return effort, but Michael Dawson brought out a trademark block to
stop it reaching Robinson. On the hour, the same player picked up
a fluffed shot by Vlcek and curled a shot on goal from 25 yards that
flew three yards wide of Robbo's right-hand post.
As the pressure mounted, a free-kick from 20
yards in the 68th minute was hit well by Hrdlicka, but Robinson got to
it at full strength and pushed it wide low down after it cleared the
wall. Robbo had to be quick in getting up to then keep out
Vlacek's follow-up at his near post.
The substitutions started to become more
frequent and this disrupted the play, but Spurs did well out of them.
With nine minutes left, Robbie Keane found a pass through the defence
and Edgar Davids was just short of getting their before Kozacik.
Then, with three minutes left on the clock, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, who had
a good game, threw in to Jermaine Jenas who put Keane through on goal
and again Kozacik was sharply out at his feet.
That was the last meaningful action and the
players saluted the Spurs crowd who were gathered behind each goal (as
well as a few others sprinkled around the ground) and the fans saluted
the players. The flags of Spurs fans all over the country were
displayed in the Czech capital to show how determined the travelling
band were to let the world know that Tottenham were back. Their
vocal backing and with the help fo the drum, they drowned out the
loudspeaker cheerleader of the Slavia fans.
With a better performance in a fortnight at the
Lane, there could be even more to shout about.
MEHSTG TOP MAN : - DIDIER ZOKORA