Just as in the game at the Pirates stadium, it was a great opportunity
to beat Arsenal, but once more, Tottenham blew it and blew a two goal
lead in the process to leave the semi-final on a knife edge as it goes
to the second leg next Wednesday.
Martin Jol could not have asked for a better start to the game, but what
appeared to be a lack of tactical nous let the initiative slip to the
visitors, whop took full advantage, as Tottenham hardly got out of their
own half in the second period.
Within two minutes of the start, Aaron
Lennon was ripping up the right wing to give Traore the first of a
nightful of runs past him with great ease. Nut-megging Diaby,
Lennon put in a fierce low cross that Hoyte just managed to clear before
it reached Dimitar Berbatov inside the six yard box. When Berba
did get on the end of the ball he nearly scored. In the fourth
minute, he played a one-two with Defoe and stretching to get the ball,
he took it past Diaby and struck a low shot that had Almunia rooted to
the spot, but hit the foot of the post and went wide.
In what was a frantic start, the ball was
suddenly at the Spurs end and Fabregas managed to get on the end of a
ball into the Tottenham penalty area and he took it past Robinson as he
came out to claim the ball. Just as it looked like he would put it
into the gaping net, he found himself too wide and crossed the ball,
which was cleared straight to Denilson, who hit a shot that Michael
Dawson threw himself in the way of to take the ball wide of goal.
Hardly having time to draw breath, Spurs attacked and from a deflected
Berbatov shot got a corner, which was headed towards goal, but hit a
defender with claims for handball ringing out, but to no avail.
Within two minutes, Spurs were ahead.
Some neat work from Malbranque worked the ball out to the right, where
Jermain Defoe popped up on the wing, putting in a dinked cross, which
looked harmless enough. That was until Toure ducked underneath it
and Almunia had stayed stuck on his line, leaving Berbatov the simple
task of ghosting between them and nodding the ball past the static
Arsenal keeper from close range. It was just the early goal that
Tottenham needed to settle them down.
Not sitting back on the goal lead, Spurs
went looking for more. Defoe smacked a shot that Almunia blocked
but could not hold, leaving Senderos to mis-kick it to Berba, whose shot
was also blocked and then Malbranque volleyed the loose ball over from
just outside the area. And that was the last action that Berbatov
was involved in, leaving Tottenham to bring on Keane instead of Mido, to
have the two small men up front and the impact of losing the Bulgarian
so early was one which might have cost us the win.
Initially, it didn't seem to have done us
much harm, as Huddlestone fired in a low free kick from the left wing in
the 20th minute. Dawson raced to the near post, but unable to do
much with it, he jumped over the ball, leaving it to be dragged back
into his own goal by Baptista leaving Almunia helpless. 2-0 with
20 minutes gone and Spurs were in the driving seat. But somewhere
along the road, the plan crashed.
It might have been the cynical way that
Arsenal defenders chose to hack Lennon down when he skipped past them
and Toure took the yellow rather than allow Aaron to burst clean through
on goal. That came after a late tackle by Baptista on Zokora saw
him similarly punished, while Defoe got a caution for his first tackle,
a late one on Denilson, who had got away with a similar challenge early
on in the game. A number of people have said that Graham Poll is
just out on the pitch for himself and thus makes a lot of decisions that
do not show any consistency. A scythe down from behind by Traore
on Defoe saw him get a ticking off, but this is surely a booking ?
Not in Mr. Poll's eyes. Mind you, when it was reported the next
day that he had to ask someone from Sky TV who should kick off the
second half, is it surprising that some fans have little faith in him
When Lennon was allowed to kick the ball
without getting kicked himself, he played in a low corner to the near
post, Fabregas sliced his clearance and the ball flew into Almunia's
midriff without him knowing a great deal about it. As the game
came to the end of the first half, Dawson flicked a header wide from
Huddlestone's cross and Arsenal could have got back into the match when
a corner fell to Baptista, but he mis-kicked right in front of goal and
the chance vanished.
There was a period in the middle of the
first half when Spurs looked happy to drop off to their 18 yard line and
let Arsenal come at them. It led to a period of pressure that saw
the white shirts clear the ball to nobody in particular and with
Berbatov off the pitch, there was a lack of a target to play the ball
out. Spurs defenders kept giving the ball away and inviting the
opposition to attack them. This perhaps led to their downfall.
From the start of the second half,
Arsenal looked willing to have a go at the Tottenham defence. With
Spurs dropping back into their own last third, Fabregas found the time
to dictate the play and the space opened up for his colleagues to find
room to get around the home players. With Malbranque having put in
a hard shift, Lennon being starved of the ball, Zokora not playing his
normal running game and with Huddlestone limping, but carrying on, after
two late tackles from Fabregas caught him on the ankle, the Arsenal
midfield took over. The real change in the flow of the game came
ten minutes into the second half, when Hleb came on and then five
minutes later when Eboue was introduced.
This gave the visitors the opportunity to
use two players who could run at a tired midfield and push onto the
Tottenham back four. Robinson has come in for some criticism
of late and he didn't help his case when he came to punch a Fabregas
free-kick and missed it; the ball hitting a head on it's way towards
goal, where Michael Dawson nodded it off the line. However, Paul
was in the right place a minute later when Baptista's free-kick fell
nicely for the little Spanish midfielder to head at goal, but he
couldn't get any power behind it and it was straight at the England
But two minutes after, Arsenal were back
in the game. Eboue got in behind Assou-Ekotto and his low ball
into the area got to Baptista and his close range finish, after the ball
had bobbled about made it 2-1.
The pendulum swung Arsenal's way and
Robinson had to dive full-length to hold a low Fabregas shot, but that
was just before he had a rush of blood and rushed off his line towards
Hoyte as he got behind Benoit again. This time the ball reached
Baptista in space in front of goal and Dawson's despairing effort could
not reach the ball before it hit the net to make it all square.
So, the Brazilian competed an interesting hat-trick, but was probably
lucky to still be on the pitch, as after his initial booking, he fouled
Defoe again and once more Poll decided to talk instead of wave the
yellow again. Perhaps he had thought he got enough stick the last
time he sent someone off at the Lane ??
Spurs did try and get back into the game,
but with Lennon now holding the back of his thigh, his effectiveness was
limited. He was keen to come off, although Jol resisted all signs
that the winger would want to be substituted. Chimbonda picked out
a neat pass through to Defoe, who went on and hit a shot that looked
like it might just clear the diving Almunia, but the keeper got a touch
on it and then it was cleared by an Arsenal defender. With Keane
having a bit of a mare, it was a real surprise when Mido came on for
Defoe, who had looked lively.
Lennon kept giving problems to the
Arsenal defence and another cynical chop when he glided past Traore
would have seen him sent off had Poll booked him for his earlier offence
as well as this one. However, nothing came of that free-kick as
Assou-Ekotto curled it over the bar. The closest to a goal was
always likely to come form Arsenal and Fabregas put in a cross from the
right deep to the far post and it fell to the anonymous Theo Walcott,
who should have done better than volley it five yards wide from close
range. Lennon showed why he is the more natural choice for
England, as he skipped past Traore and he put it back into Keane's path.
Robbie knocked in a low cross to the near post and it flew across the
goal with Mido behind the play. It was just another one of the
chances we made that just wasn't played quite right.
The final pass on the night was lacking
and the early missed chances left us rueing the opportunities we had to
kill off Arsenal. At the moment, we have to face it, we are still
a way off the top four sides.
There is still the second leg to come,
but away from home, where we play like rabbits in the headlights and at
a ground where we got embarrassed last time out, as we forgot to turn
up. Maybe we can get there early and start playing before the
Gooners know what has hit them ?