Another self-assured performance by Spurs saw them ease to a 1-0 win
away at Bayer Leverkusen to put them through to the knock out stages,
despite a late rally from the home side.
Once more, Tottenham had to put up with a
high volume home crowd, but in the end they were singing the name of one
of the Spurs players ... that of Dimitar Berbatov, who had been their
won hero a few months back. And it was Berbatov who made the
difference between the sides with a goal that took Tottenham to nine
points from the three wins in the three games they have played so far.
Once more, Martin Jol shuffled his pack,
with Tainio coming back in after his two goal performance in the
reserves earlier this week and also Malbranque came in, with Chimbonda
recovering from his knee injury to play. Berbatov and Keane
returned up front and with Aaron Lennon making a comeback in his right
wing place with a fitness test behind him.
Berbatov played in the role that home
supporters will have been familiar with, as he pulled off the shoulder
of the last man to drag him wide or to lay the ball off to a colleague.
His movement is fluid and his demeanour calm, which are just the
qualities you need in Europe and so it is proving.
Malbranque brought Jorg Butt into action
with an early low cross and then the keeper had to rush out to halt
Keane's run through when no offside flag came. Berbatov's weight
of pass let him down when he could have laid the ball into the path of
Keane and butt rushed to collect the ball.
When Barnetta injured himself tackling
Zokora and had to leave the field after 15 minutes and Mamelow and
Barbarez were trying to impose themselves on the Spurs side. While
Leverkusen had the bigger share of the possession, they did little with
it and Dawson and King mopped up anything that got as far as them.
Chimbonda had to react quickly when Rolfes nearly broke through after
the ball bounced kindly for him and also won a vital header against
Voronin to keep the pressure off Paul Robinson.
Dimitar diverted Tainio's corner wide
before he brought a diving save from Butt with a drive after Zokora set
him up. Three minutes later, he went one better. Zokora
opened up the play with a pass out to Keane on the right flank and his
pass outside to Aaron Lennon saw the little winger strike a shot on
goal, which fell kindly for Berbatov to tap the ball into the Bayer net
with 35 minutes on the clock. It must have been fate that he would
score against his old side, but we all know this happens often enough to
be more than luck.
Spurs could have added to their total near the
end, with Keane hitting Butt with a shot after beating his marker in the
area, with Berbatov racing clear, but failed to pick out one of the
three Spurs players waiting for the pass to arrive.
In all truth, the second half was a bit of a
disappointment. Although Leverkusen had a go, they could have
played until September and still wouldn't have looked like scoring.
Whereas Spurs should have had more goals in the score-line.
Malbranque's quality of passing was showing itself and when he put
Berbie through three minutes into the half, the ball back to Keane was
lost when he got the ball caught between his feet.
Robbo finally got into the game, as he used his
legs to keep out substitute Frier's low shot and from the corner that
resulted, he took the skiddy header from Voronin cleanly. Then the
same player drilled a low shot that Robinson did well to get down to and
keep out. To release the defence from this pressure, Tottenham
started to push forward again. And when a simple opportunity
presented itself, it was Berbatov who missed it alarmingly. Tainio
passed in Keane on the left wing and with a deft flick of his foot, he
played the ball across the six yard box and Dimitar managed to miss the
ball right in front of goal. It was a moment when the game could
have been wrapped up, but we all hoped that we would not live to rue the
Lennon and Keane linked up to present another
chance for the Irishman, but Butt guessed right and smothered his
effort, as the game swung the other way. It nearly brought the
German side an equaliser, with Schneider firing in a shot out of the
blue from about 30 yards out and Robbo wouldn't have got to it, but he
found a friend in his goalpost, which kept the drive out and the shot
should have given Spurs the warning they needed to heed.
Substitute tom Huddlestone had replaced a
tiring Malbranque and the big Englishman fired in a shot from outside
the box but it was straight at the goalie and with the last minute
approaching, Tom nicked the ball away from a Leverkusen player and
passed to Keane, who laid it into the path of the supporting Chimbonda.
The French full back lashed the shot low, but Butt kept it out with his
With three minutes of added time to see out,
Tottenham decided that it might be best to see it out at the other end
of the pitch. Keane made himself an opportunity, but shot straight
at Butt, who pushed the ball aside. Next up came a break when
Spurs were three on three, but Mido choose the wrong option in going for
a shot when Robbie was wide open. This allowed Nutt to save.
The chorus of the Leverkusen fans when Berbatov
left the pitch was a dig at their own management as much as praise for
the striker. The home team looked disjointed, as players ran
hither and thither and it is not hard to see why their season has not
ignited and how they have trouble scoring.
For Spurs, it was another fine European night.
On paper this was the toughest match of the group, but in the end, it
was a stroll which could have been won by even more goals. Jol got
his tactics just right and perhaps wins like this might prompt some more
points gathered away from home back in the home country.
Dinamo Bucharest await and a top of the table
playing is ours for the taking, as it will allow an easier game in the
first of the knock out rounds.
TOP MAN : - DIDIER ZOKORA