Dnipro 1 Tottenham 0
Read it and weep.
What a diablocal ninety minutes of football, truly awful and brain numbing even at the peak of the excitement on offer by way of heart in mouth defending from our own. Detaching from all the political upheaval and the far more serious events occurring 220 miles away in Kiev, the game played out to no trouble outside of the stadium and plenty of it out on the pitch. Trouble defined by the potato patch the players had to run around on. Not forgetting the return to the wilderness of non-cohesiveness, evident after the kick off.
Before kick off I didn't mind too much about the first teamers left back in England and the extremely youthful looking bench, including the sixteen year old Joshua Onomah, a box to box midfielder that has sparkled for the under-18s this season. Why didn't I mind? On paper and in theory (that's the infinitely flawed optimism that the game will play out in the best possible way for your own team) we looked more than capable of winning the game with comfort. Although that was also influenced by the fact that Dnipro hadn't played a competitive match since December. I also had faith in the professionalism of the players (infinitely flawed optimism klaxon) to get the job done. Oh what a fool I am.
The side Tim Sherwood picked looked solid thanks to the fact the players selected were set to start in their natural positions. That's half of what is required. In fact, no it's not. Turning up is about 1%, it's the remaining 99% that needs to click for it to all fall into place.
You know, stuff like passing, movement, first touch, second touch, awareness, willingness to fight and attack the ball. The basics. Actually wanting to win the game or rather believing the game can be won is pivotal. Instead we embraced mediocrity and frustration and did little to muster up the effort for something more easy on the eye.
This is the best way to look at it:
Using age-old romanticism, we all want a cup final and a piece of silverware. What supporter doesn't desire this conclusion when still competing in a competition? It's not beyond our means, although if we do progress into the next round we'll need to take it far more seriously. The fact we're not seeking to build momentum with a best eleven and place faith in the squad instead means - much like all domestic cup games and anything that isn't 'the top four chase' - the prioritisation goes beyond the eleven picked to play. It festers deep within the mentality of the club, splintering the collective objective to go forth and conquer.
Faith in the squad works if those selected are up for it. It was a strong side. But much like any side resting key players, it's not going to be pretty. But this was ugly and regardless of the newish coach, the players have to shoulder the responsibility.
The fact is, we don't - the players, the coach - want to win it. The Europa League is an inconvenience that is influenced by our current league standing and Tim Sherwood's appointment.
Yes, the pitch was a disgrace. But players can adapt to the conditions because there isn't another alternative, aside from sulking around and not bothering - which is what we appeared to favour as the minutes ticked away. Yes, rotation is an important part of the game and regardless of your opinion on any given player, there was enough there to bully and boss the match and win it.
'It was a strong side' is something being disputed by many as it seems most on show are not deemed good enough for Spurs (Naughton, Dawson, Rose, Soldado and Townsend - all heavily criticised players - not just because of the Dnipro game). If you follow this belief, then not sure there's much to be disgruntled about. If you don't rate them, don't expect much. If you do, then is the problem still tactical or is it the aforementioned top four chase issue giving us a cup headache?
If it does go beyond attitude and desire (in terms of it being the Europa) then on the day you can still blame attitude and desire, with the back four lacking organisation and leadership. Jan Vertonghen's attempted tackle that led to the penalty was clumsy, so much so it's like he couldn't really be bothered with it so he just stuck out his boot and be damned with it. Our defence started the season like Spartans and are now playing like...Spurs players. The high line has turned into no line leaving me needing a line.
There are so many problems that need fixing.
Roberto Soldado is a psychological paradox. He is now accomplished outside of the penalty area, flicking the ball around with confidence, linking up play, displaying intelligent traits of awareness and yet in front of goal it's akin to sleep paralysis. His brain shuts off his muscles so he can't move and even though he's already scored the goal in his head he can't react when it bounces off him and spikes up high and over the bar.
Yes - the ball bobbled and it's only because of his open play record this season that this is being amplified as badly as it is, but when lady luck decides to stop flirting with you - it's a problem. In La Liga he was non-existent outside of the box. Inside it, he was clinical. Crosses, cut-backs, drilled balls, floated balls - technically sublime with his finishing. Almost reminiscence of Rafa van der Vaart and his wonderful finishing. Yet the THFC experience has soul destroyed him.
You've seen the game. We've all suffered together. It was a cagey, untidy match where the home side could have punished us early on and failed (Brad Friedel, the oldest sweeper keeper in the world) whilst we did little carve out a clear chance at the other end.
Chadli was decent. That's about it.
We looked better when Christian Eriksen came on. He scored almost immediately (disallowed). Nabil Bentaleb played again, Sherwood unrelenting with his first choice for central midfield. I guess he doesn't need a rest. The rest of the midfield players looked like they were resting during the duration of the match.
We could have conceded a second goal late on with some more shambolic defending and failed clearances. There was no redeeming quality to this game aside from the sound of the final whistle.
Three cup games, three defeats. I'd imagine a slightly stronger team at the Lane next week but it does look like the strategy is very much a case of winning if we can pull it off by not playing to strength. The Europa League tagline. It will change no doubt next season when the winner gains Champions League qualification, but it's nigh obvious that Thursday night kick-offs and continental travel means this competition will never be taken seriously because at the forefront of everyone's mind is the next league game, the next three points and the fight for top four.
Soundbites from Sherwood about bolstering his CV, winning silverware - it sounds good at press conferences. It's not very likely when you take the evidence on show, on the pitch. Maybe this will only perk up if we get through and beat Benfica. But to repeat myself - we're not in it to win it, we're in it to muddle through it.
Because the game played out on a Thursday in the Ukraine, I'm not going to knee-jerk in terms of Spurs general development under Sherwood. Although you could argue that at times we're stretching the quality of the performances and dismissing some to fit the same faith driven agenda that many were slated for when Andre Villas-Boas was the coach.
We saw a positive change last week away to Newcastle so if you are committing yourself to faith you'll better suited to seeing how we shape up away to Norwich before reviewing your ideals.
Tottenham's problems are numerous. I'm already over this season. Far too much emotion spent early on, its left me drained in the present. Last night's performance was every bit as poor as any given much maligned Andre Villas-Boas 'nightmare'. Plenty of chances created yet few on target.
I think muddling through it is what we're destined to do for the foreseeable future until someone at the club makes a definitive statement regarding our immediate future (won't happen until the summer) which will tie in with the on-going search for a true footballing identity. For now, I'll be content with a leader on the field of play. Just as a starting point.
Expect the mood to swing back from frowns to smiles and this 1-0 loss be labelled as 'one of those days' after we beat Norwich with convincing football*.
*If we lose, knee-jerk away