Well first of all, a history lesson: in our first ever European Cup tie, back in 1962, Blanchflower, Mackay et al travelled to Poland to play Gornik, under the auspices of Bill Nick, and promptly found themselves 4-0 down at half-time, before scoring two late goals. Back at the Lane in the return leg we won 8-1… (That and just about everything else in our history can be read about in AANP’s book Spurs’ Cult Heroes, now a tenner on Amazon, ahem).So that, ladies and gents, is the Champions League, Tottenham style. Despite the fact that players, management, fans, pundits and just about anyone remotely connected with the club had spent the entire summer banging on about the Champions League, our lot looked to be taken completely by surprise by the whole experience. Everywhere we looked players were discovering new and exciting forms of ineptitude. Daws and Bassong spent the first half hour diligently practising their Corluka-running impressions, and by half-time had given some near-perfect examples of that running-through-quicksand look. If there is a physical opposite to Velcro, Pav appeared to have wrapped himself in it in the first half, as the ball flew several yards away from him every time he tried to control it. And so on. Giovani looked lively in the opening stages, but the rest of them ought to have worn sixes and sevens on the back of their shirts. Action in places, but not the merest semblance of plot.
And yet, even despite the sudden presence of Larry, Curly and Moe in the Tottenham defence, the feeling around these parts persisted that we would at some point sneak an away goal or two and have plenty to play for in the second leg. From the outset, although our hosts were merrily waltzing through our back line, there were some fairly straightforward indications their own defence was far from watertight, with Giovani and Defoe spurning a couple of early opportunities. A more seasoned CL outfit may well have slammed the door in our faces and lobbed the key into the Rhine; instead, for all the euphoria of their early blitz Young Boys seemed oblivious to the fact that in European competition a miserly defence at home is paramount.
We May Have Ourselves A Scapegoat…
Presumably much will be made of the plastic pitch, but from the comfort of the AANP armchair it is difficult to know quite how great an impact that had. It may have had a psychological effect, or it may have meant that any pass over 20 yards fizzed off the surface and away, but whatever the reason, the introduction of Hudd, and the short passing he brought with him, certainly seemed to aid our recovery. Passes under 10 yards looked like they were easier to control, and for a period either side of half-time the players appeared to warm to the task.
By and large however, they made it look like they were running across a minefield rather than an artificial pitch. Ought not these chaps, whose entire lives have been geared towards mastering the dark arts of a size 5 football, have been capable of adjusting to Astroturf pronto? Perhaps, but AANP is reluctant to chastise our lot on this account until I’ve walked a mile in their astro boots. Moreover, injuries sustained by Defoe and Modders suggests that beneath those artificial fibres lurked some malevolent daemon of terra firma. No doubt our heroes will be a darned sight happier on the green, green grass of home.
A Word On Our Glorious Leader
We’ll Be Fine
An inauspicious start then, but better things should await in the second leg. No doubt we rode our luck yesterday, as Young Boys could have hit five or six but for some schoolboy (sorry, couldn’t resist) finishing. Nevertheless with Ledley quite possibly to be restored to offer some almost motherly reassurance and organisation at the back, plus Aaron Lennon waiting in the wings, and Gareth Bale yet to make an impact on the tie, I sense that our opponents have blown a good opportunity to give themselves a much more imposing lead.
So, unusually, panic is nowhere to be seen at AANP Towers. If we hit a level remotely near the standards of last season I back us to cruise through, particularly at a throbbing, floodlit White Hart Lane. It may of course all go pear-shaped again (recall ye our UEFA Quarter Final home leg to Sevilla, a few years back, when after an encouraging 2-1 away leg defeat we cunningly conceded twice in the first ten minutes at the Lane to set ourselves a Herculean task), but I personally draw inspiration from the class of ’62, and their christening of Tottenham’s European adventures with the concession of four first-half goals, before proceeding to a 10-5 aggregate victory. Gifting the opposition an early lead, and generally doing everything in our powers to complicate the uncomplicated is a peculiarly Tottenham trait, as proudly displayed today as five decades ago. One-nil may suffice next week, but I suspect that our lot will find a vastly more complicated means of progressing.