Thanks to outside interference (baby, missus) watching our 'shadow' team play the first of our group games on an internet stream (10 seconds behind the actual live coverage) was proving to be as tricky as a eunuch auditioning for a porno. Decided it would be nigh impossible to write up a match-report myself. Considering I spent 15 minutes thinking we were 1-0 down thanks to a penalty, I thought it best to ask Twitter if anyone would be able to review. Couple of people stuck their hands up, so thanks to @DDDL_MSainsbury for this entry. I might have another match report available to share too, so in the interest of fairness will post that later if its fired across.
From a personal standpoint, the game (in the moments I caught it) hardly looked spectacular (other than Pav's shooting) but was surprised at the 0-0 scoreline. Did we get away with it or was it a shrewd selection? I can't comment. You can, so go ahead and do so.
PAOK Salonika Vs Tottenham Hotspur by @DDDL_MSainsbury
One of the more FUN things about the Europa League UEFA Cup campaign this season is going to be mid-afternoon/early-evening kick-offs. Did I say ‘Fun’? Make that annoying! After a Kamikaze blitz home from work in the Mini there is barely enough time to swap into my new (hopefully lucky) cup shirt.
The build-up to the game and pre-game coverage has mostly centred on our ‘inexperienced’ travelling squad, which makes a good story but is not entirely accurate. Our starting XI contains Cudicini, Bassong, Corluka, Gio, and Pav who are all experienced internationals, as well as Livermore and Walker; who have started 1st team games for us this season, Carroll, Kane and Townsend; who all debuted in the Hearts match. The only real newcomer to the side is Falque, but to be honest I’ve been viewing him as more of a new signing for the first team, as opposed to a ‘developmental’ player. He makes his first team debut here.
The dressing room does throw up some interesting visuals though, in shirts numbering as high as #59 and #60! Out of all of these though I’d be keeping an eye out for #54 Alex Pritchard. I was really impressed with him in the Barnet friendly at the start of this season. Tidy midfielder, comfy on the ball, though so short my mate Easty and I were convinced he was a mascot at first!
Our team prepares to walk out, as the strains of AC/DC’s ‘Hell’s Bells’ blare out of the PA. This has to be a sign surely? My favourite band? Can’t fault the Greeks for their taste in anthems anyway.
Team starts as a 4-4-2 with Townsend at LB (out of position technically but he’s played there in friendlies and the Hearts game). Gio starts on the left wing with Falque on the right. The first 5 minutes pass almost like a training match for us, with our second/third-string side knocking the ball around and coming under very little pressure. Thought some of our shirt numbers were high, but I see that their goalie is rocking #91!
PAOK start to get into the game, bringing down Townsend in possession in our half. A period ensues of the Greek team’s players going in with lots of niggley challenges, repeatedly fouling, breaking up the game. Possession passes back and forth but there are no real clear-cut chances on either side. Our ‘makeshift’ team is performing better than I had expected us to, tidy passing, particularly between the defence and young Carroll.
A word about the Greek fans: MENTAL! Firecrackers going off, massive flags and replica shirts are being waved around in the air instead of being worn. Need to have a bit more of that at the Lane maybe? Well the shouting anyway. Doubt we’d get the firecrackers past the turnstiles? And for that matter I’ll pass at seeing many of my fellow Block 23 occupants topless as well! Come to think of it I like the match-day atmosphere at home as it is!
Kane has the first real clear-cut chance of the half, being released into the penalty area and brought down. Referee chooses to book him for simulation however? Replay shows that contact was made. Isn’t that what the 4th and 5th official is there for in these games?
Almost immediately after this travesty PAOK are down our end and win a penalty. It’s really Cudicini’s fault for coming out and stretching for the ball when the attacker was running away from goal. When are we going to learn not to commit to challenges in the box if the player is running away from goal? Lino (their LB I believe) steps up and buries the ball in the back of the net. He sprints off to celebrate enthusiastically with his team-mates BUT THE REF CALLS THEM BACK FOR A RE-TAKE. Replay shows that Lino’s stuttering approach meant that his team-mate encroached in the box before the ball was kicked. He drags the re-take wide with Carlo covering it. It's still 0-0 and a lucky escape for him and us.
Our best chance of the half follows; we win a free kick roughly 20 yards out and left of the goal. Pav sizes it up and hits a strong shot, which curls up, over the bar to land in the top of the (slightly sagging) Greek net. A cheer from our fans who think it’s in! It’s our only real shot at goal though; half time and a very even match so far even for all the penalty drama.
Half time thoughts:
I’ve been quite impressed with Tom Carroll, he’s been sitting deep and linking Defence and Midfield, as well as being comfortable in possession. Easty told me after the Hearts game that he reminded him of McEachran of Cheatski, have to say he looks a similar sort of player and hopefully can grow into a first-team role.
Gio has been full-of running and working hard for the team. He’s been swapping flanks with Falque, who has looked tidy in possession himself. Indeed they seem to link up with one another well (I know that they’re on separate flanks, but they’ve conspired to link up a few times with Falque drifting inside and Carroll filling up the space left out wide). It’s refreshing to see Gio in the team, last season I felt he might have a breakout year after his impressive pre-season? Was sadly not to-be.
Uneventful start to the second half, besides the commentators referring to our away-kit as ‘violet’? Very macho? We’re also treated to a close-up of the red Summer-Moon in the night sky, which cuts to the graphic of the Europa League logo…all this time the ball is in play? Let me see the match damn-it!
Our two full-backs have impressed me, Townsend and Walker are both getting forward in possession and offering lots of width, though Walker has been caught out once or twice out of position up-pitch. In defence though they are well marshalled by Corluka and Bassong, keeping a high line playing an effective offside-trap. Impressive for players who have never played in that particular combination before? Charlie has played well at CB. Early in the 2nd-half he tracks back, shields the ball from an attacker at the byline and calmly slips the ball to Bassong for the clearance. Didn’t Harry say he’d never play him there again, as he wasn’t good enough?
Kane appears to have switched out to the left-hand side. Think we’re playing a more 4-2-3-1 with Pav up top and Kane/Gio/Falque supporting him. Unfortunately this takes Gio out of the game a bit; he’s certainly not as involved as in the first half?
Our first real chance on goal from open-play comes from Pav chasing down the keeper and winning possession from him on the right-hand side of the area, going away from goal, he plays in Falque on the right, who skips inside and hits a curling left-footer in at goal. A bit more pace or curl on it could have got us off the mark, as it is the ball goes wide.
PAOK have looked more dangerous this half, more possession in our half but no final ball thankfully. When we attack they defend deep and effectively, getting bodies behind the ball.
What follows is a pretty exciting period of play however. Best described by my notes:
60: Free Kick Pav shoots low but wide. Not enough curl. Followed by the 1st real chance for PAOK; cross from right blasted over. Close.
71: Pav goes down and looks injured? Not good! Not been spectacular but led the line and he’s held-up the ball well. He’s back up and staying on for now.
75: PAOK free kick - left of area. Tense. Low cross but Contreras balloons it over with the outside of his right foot.
80: SUB – Falque off for Fredericks
Fredericks is playing well up the right-wing. Not a bad turn of pace and fairly dogmatic when it comes to chasing lost-causes. Needs to work at getting his cross away though, he’s getting in good positions but not pulling the trigger.
82: 2 good short range efforts from PAOK. 2 good saves by Cudicini. Resulting corner marshalled out of our area. We make a quick-counter but Pav puts his shot wide.
86: free kick won by Townsend – left-hand side of the PAOK area about 25 yards out. Harry Kane fires it in hard but the shot goes over, never low enough to trouble keeper.
Maybe time to make some subs to break up play Harry?
Ref is very card happy. Books Carroll for taking Free Kick too quickly. Re-take is crossed into box but doesn’t beat the first man.
90: good save from Cudicini. More pressure from PAOK, a header off the bottom of the bar! Hanging onto the point by a thread at the moment!
Finally a sub; Parrett on for Gio. This will hopefully take up some time!
90+2: Whistle blows. Points shared.
The draw is a good point for our opening group game, particularly away from home, I can see the other teams in the group struggling here. We need to take advantage of our rested first team against Liverpool though or 'The Great Experiment’ will have been for nought! Not sure if I’d pick any of this side for the Liverpool game. Livermore, Gio and Falque would probably be good options from the bench for me? I’d be looking to bring them on if we look to be struggling creatively on Sunday.
Man of the Match is a hard one: Livermore played well, unspectacular but kept the engine-room ticking over. I’d pick Cudicini though. Without his saves this would have been a wasted trip, as it is we go back to London with a point from a tricky away game. COYS.