Lyon 1 Tottenham 1 (2-3 on agg)
Wasn't always pretty. Wasn't always tidy. But it had its moments. A fair few of them on reflection. Be it for our inability for the clean crisp pass during a progressively frustrating first forty five and Lyon's reluctance to attack with more pomp we kept that momentum and belief going all the way to the wire and edged it with seconds to spare. Even with the early conceded (and badly defended) Lyon goal giving them plenty of time to seek out a killer second we kept our heads up and kept going.
We had the look of a eunuch in a brothel in that first half. Tentative. Lacking the testicular fortitude to bully our way to an opening.
Okay so the midfield lacked fluidity. Badly lacked fluidity. Scott Parker appeared erratic and without composure (for the most part) not releasing the ball quickly enough. The completion stats will say otherwise (we are more susceptible to all the misplaced passes and focus on them when wishing to complain, but still...not much fluidity regardless of the stats). His role is still without the discipline of last season. There is no Luka Modric to release the ball too. The partnership with Dembele is long distance. No webcam. Just text messages.
Dembele himself is lost in the depths of defence, not driving forward enough (ha! irony klaxon powered with hindsight). Adebayor was isolated up front. Easy target is Adebayor, apparently judging by the abuse he gets, yet our players struggled to find him. When we had the ball in forward positions it was more Keanu Reeves than Marlon Brando. Wooden when we required method.
That cohesive balance from the back four into midfield and to the front man, fragile and without decisive link play. Although Holtby continues to display a worthy work ethic and infectious attempted vision. The kid is giving it his all but it's early days to expect it to click.
I keep having to remind myself that regardless of the story arc of this season (that's the one that sees us - the royal us - with a sense of entitlement for success), it's still AVB's first season and he's having to make do with a side that isn't fully functional thanks to key missing parts. Holtby's inclusion now pretty much an imperative moment in the last transfer window. He's the only one that can offer creative guile behind the front man. Just that he and the front man need to be introduced, go out on a date, perhaps ignite that much needed love affair. Without it, we have to rely on that special something out of nothing moment.
At the back, we we're a little too slow to react at times, inviting pressure to the full back positions. Walker started okay but still can't seem to shake off the blues which gradually consumes his aura from one game to the next. It was all a bit disjointed.
Overall, yet another perfect illustration with how important it is to sign a player that will be able to recycle possession and dictate tempo and allow others the freedom of expression to do what they do best rather than clean up after each other. That's about the 1000th time I've cited that this season. It's not a problem it's a statement of fact we have to live with that won't go away/be fixed until the summer (we hope).
Still, what we have is what we have and what we have to make do with and Andre Villas-Boas has them working as a unit and grafting hard. No collective smacking of heads on the panic button. That extra bit of quality is going to be needed for the long run, into next season and the one after that but it's beyond our control for now. Losing Sandro was a major blow. It's damaged our midfield but we continue to fight. Will it be enough? One game at a time seems to be the best way to deal with that question for now.
Vertonghen and Gallas more consistent and reliable than most on the night making sure we held it together at the back.
Now, you might think (judging by my not so positive look back so far) that I believe we played poorly in that first half. But that wasn't the case. Having re-watched the first half, aside from their goal and one or two other minor moments in attack, it was entirely Tottenham. Just, well you know, more eunuch and no porn star. Not enough poking and nowhere enough of anything resembling a money-shot. Holtby struck the post, the closest we came (steady now).
So all things considered, away from home, lazy with the defending for their cheap 1-0 lead, it was still our game to lose if we failed to do something about it. Even sticking a sock in our pants would do. Lyon's plan appeared to consist of sitting back and countering without any genuine punch.
Second half was generally (thankfully) a massive improvement on the first. We looked for it more. Bale with a glorious chance, hit too casually from a ball from Adebayor, just breezing past the post. A superb move that deserved a goal. I guess it was just a little too easy to score.
Lyon reminded everyone they were still involved. Brad between the sticks not having to move to make one save where the ball struck him.
Then Friedel invited Lyon to remind everyone again they were still involved when attacking the ball (copycatting Lloris) on the edge of the area but playing it to the feet of the incoming Lacazette who went down like a ton of bricks when Brad pulled back from making contact. No penalty, but hearts chewing in mouth.
Bale soon after had a free-kick nervously punched away by Vercoutre. We tasted woodwork again, this time with Adebayor kicking the ball over his head from an angle onto the bar.
It was spirited if hardly pulsating. There was purpose. But we had to make a breakthrough otherwise it was heartbreak.
Dempsey replaced Lennon. Aaron not impacting the game enough and Clint the type of player who might nick a goal.
Bale with another long range effort, the keeper again bricking it, getting away with another clumsy punch.
Sigurdsson replaced Holtby who had a quieter second half. Both substitutions positive. Dempsey with a header just over the bar the closest he got but not close enough. Another effort soon followed but wide it went.
Where was the goal going to come from? If at all. The minutes ticked away. Out of the Europa was imminent.
The equaliser was a thumping 'I FEEL ALIVE AND **** ANYTHING THAT ISN'T LILYWHITE' moment made sweeter by its arrival so late on in the game. Lucky? Got away with it? Who cares? Cup football baby, knock-out! In a second, it all changed with a simple skip and swing of a Belgian boot.
If every game is going to involve something special, out of nothing, rather than the mundane business as usual carefully constructed goal, then I'm happy to accept the emotional stress and release as long as we keep progressing/winning.
Watch the goal again and tell me you don't fly off your seat every time the ball travels towards goal and hits the net and the Spurs away support lose their minds in the away stands.
Dembele should do this more often. He's been underwhelming for a while now, I guess again, compensating for the loss of Sandro and the ever so slight identity crisis we have in the middle of the park whilst we shift and change and attempt to adapt. It was a great moment. The way he lost the nearest player, the goal was birthed in that moment of silky escape. Lovely stuff.
All the little criticisms and complaints evaporate to meaningless distractions. Why? Because Tottenham Hotspur go marching on.
Lyon retained organisation and defensive awareness through-out making it difficult to get in behind them so I've got to admit I'm happy with the performance in the end considering the lack of cutting edge opportunity (even if those meaningless distractions might not evaporate just yet). Momentum and winning mentality is just as important, especially at this point in the season. The belief we won't lose appears be a very well drilled trait at the moment. Or a very fortunate one depending on your perception of the game. We're going to need more, in the cup and the league, no argument there.
Took a special goal to win it. There's no way I'm not going to buzz off the back of that. Loved Brad giving it some back to the home support at the finish.
I re-watched the game in it's entirety. Wasn't half as bad as Twitter made out during it. I think nerves really do **** up some peoples perception. Sure, wasn't tidy (especially in the first half) and yes we seriously lack that cutting edge. But **** it. Football is about those special moments. Love seeing Spurs win like that (draw, equalise, but win over two legs).
Inter Inter Inter Inter Inter. Meow. Woof.
Nice little break before the West Ham game. Our fixture list looks beastly.
Regarding the Europa, we'll have to turn up for this one (Inter) in a massive way, especially at home. Could be a bit special. Will truly be a test of nerves and focus considering the league games sandwiching the cup games.
Champions League qualification. Silverware.
That's a gorgeous looking pair. Let's hope it doesn't go t*ts up.