When Sandro picked off a pass on the edge of the Tottenham box in the
79th minute and passed to Luka Modric, just a few yards away, you could
hardly have predicted what was about to happen. Moving the ball
quickly onto Aaron Lennon, as Luka does to keep the team moving forward,
the winger got the ball about 50 metres from the Milan penalty area, but
his speed took him 48 metres before a challenge came in, with Yepes
desperately trying to bring him down. Aaron skipped over that sad
effort and as Nesta came across to him, squared the ball for Peter
Crouch to sweep right footed into the net from just inside the box.
And at that point, it all became a bit
difficult to take in.
Spurs had gone away to AC Milan - seven
times winners of the European Cup/Champions League. Now not quite
the team that won those trophies, but still top of Serie A and with some
top players, but Tottenham had won by keeping a clean sheet thanks to
two memorable saves by Heurelho Gomes and some heroic defending and then
nicked a win with a clinical piece of finishing after hitting the
Italians on the break.
And the way Spurs had started the game,
even without Gareth Bale, Ledley King, Tom Huddlestone, Jermaine Jenas,
Younes Kaboul and not having Luka Modric and Jermain Defoe in the
starting line-up, they deserved the win. Taking the game to Milan
saw Spurs win four corners and have the bulk of the attacking play
within the first half and this pushed the Rossoneri back towards their
own goal, with the closing down by the midfielders and the anticipation
by the back four not allowing the ball to stick with the Milan attacking
players. The likes of Clarence Seedorf, Zlatan Ibrahimovich and
Robinho were all made to look ordinary. Seedorf's influence on the
game, which could have been a significant factor in the outcome, was
nullified by the effort put in by Palacios and Sandro, who built on
Saturday's performance to show he has great value to the Tottenham side.
The early chances were all created by
Spurs. They could have been a goal up within a minute, although
when the shout went up for a penalty as Nesta bent his body and his arm
to knock away Steven Pienaar's low cross, perhaps it was for the best
that the claim went unheeded what with with the record the team has for
missing spot-kicks. Tottenham were looking to hit Crouch with the
diagonal ball in the box as often as possible and he was causing their
defenders all sorts of problems, with Yepes and Nesta could only back
into the Spurs striker to try and put him off winning the ball.
Gattuso did well to get to Crouchy when he took a cross form Corluka
down on his chest at the far post and was about to get his shot away.
Charlie and Aaron were linking nicely
down the right wing and Antonini was being passed easily by Lennon,
with Corluka threading some nice passes inside the full back to put the
winger away. Spurs hit a couple of shots from outside the box,
without giving Abbiati too much trouble, but then he appeared to be
caught as he came out to claim a ball he had dropped and had a lengthy
spell of treatment, before he left the pitch on a stretcher with a neck
brace on. His replacement, Amelia, entered the play on 18 minutes.
Surprisingly, having tested the starting goalie with the crosses to
Crouch, Tottenham then stopped that tactic and started to try and play
through the AC Milan defence.
It was a move that didn't produce as much
on goal for Spurs and Milan were breaking things up and launching their
own counter-attacks, although a cross that Gomes and Gallas got away and
a penalty appeal when Ibrahimovich went down too theatrically for a foul
outside the box was all they had to show for it at that stage.
Tottenham's back four nipped in front of the Milan players who were
waiting for the bal to reach them and the midfielders got back and
nicked the away from them as they were dwelling on it, unable to find a
free team-mate to pass to.
This lead to Spurs having a couple of
chances towards the end of the half, with Aaron Lennon getting past
Antonini once more, but hitting a powerful drive head high, but with
no-one there to finish it, before van der Vaart hitting a shot from 25
yards out, as there was nobody in front of him, but it was straight at
Amelia and an easy one for him top push over the top. There was
one last nervy moment for Spurs before the half-time whistle, when
Robinho got away on the left wing and put a low ball across the box,
which might have been a shot, but it went harmlessly wide with no other
red and black shirt near to get a touch on it.
The Italian fans are as a un-loveable
bunch as you could wish to meet and their half-time antics were
unnecessary in the extreme, but another example of how Spurs had got to
them, as they probably thought they would roll us over. As Pato
warmed up on the pitch, it must have been hard for Allegri to know who
to bring off.
Seedorf was the one to make way, but it
could quite easily have been any number of others. Pato seemed to
inject a bit of energy into the team to start off with. But
Tottenham's own creator, Rafael van der Vaart conjured a piece of magic
two minutes after the restart when he received the ball just outside the
Five minutes in, Gattuso managed to do
something with the ball and his cross from the right wing found Yepes,
up for a corner, heading powerfully towards Gomes' top right corner.
Somehow, the Spurs goalie reached upwards and slightly backwards to get
a good hand to swipe the ball out and wide of the goal, where it was
cleared away. it was an outstanding, athletic save from Heurelho
and would have been an injustice if Spurs had fallen behind.
Tottenham continued to press forward and
Rafael had a couple of efforts on goal, one wide and a free kick that
was easy enough for Amelia to stop, but the game to boiling point in the
55th minute, when Mathieu Flamini launched himself into a tackle on
Vedran Corluka from about five yards away that saw him parallel to the
ground with both sets of studs showing to the Spurs full back. The
impact between the two luckily had the ball in between, otherwise
Corluka would have been looking at a broken leg or two, such was the
ferocity of the challenge. The Milan players were then complaining
to the referee to get Corluka off the pitch and Robinho even stepped on
the Croatian. Shameful scenes from a bunch of ignorant thugs.
When play resumed, Spurs were unable to
get Jonathan Woodgate on for about three minutes, thus confounding the
ref's yellow card for Flamini, by punishing Spurs by keeping them to ten
men for so long. It mattered not, as Milan were unable to take
advantage and Woodgate slipped into the centre of defence alongside
Dawson, with William Gallas moving to right back. All three then
proceeded to play blinders as Milan huffed and puffed and were reduced
to pumping high balls into the Tottenham box.
But within a minute of the change, one
ball into the area from Thiago Silva on the right dipped and was met by
the Colombian Yepes again, with the ball heading into the same side of
Gomes' goal again, but Brazilian boy reacted superbly to get hands to
the ball and push it out with Gallas finishing the clearance to remove
any danger on the Spurs net.
As Milan turned into Stoke City (although
that is a little unfair on Stoke), Gomes was more at home with dealing
with the balls coming his way and claimed or punched clear well.
Nesta hit a cleared ball wide of the goal and then Woodgate came out to
block Flamini, who shaped up to shoot form the edge of the area.
The Spurs defenders were alive to the danger every time Milan got near
the box, but it was away from the box that the next danger came and it
was from Gattuso, who threatened to explode with unbridled anger after
he took Pienaar down from behind and the ref pulled out the yellow card.
Frankly, from his antics earlier in the game, when he seemed to be
trying to rile Peter Crouch at every opportunity, but only succeeded in
pushing him in the chest a few times, this could have been the second or
third chance for the ref to give him a second yellow. As the
work-a-day midfielder lay on the floor, he punched the turf as he was
incandescent with rage ... and it was hilarious to see. The yellow
meant he would miss the return leg at White Hart Lane and I expected he
might go out to finish the job by kicking everything that moved to get a
red, as it would not matter any more to him.
A neat interchange of passes on the edge
of the Tottenham area ended with Ibrahimovic having a shot that Dawson
got in the way and for a moment it looked like the ball might wrong-foot
Gomes, but it flew harmlessly straight at him. Harry had replaced
van der Vaart with Modric and Kranjcar came on for Pienaar, which proved
to be vital substitutions. Kranjcar worked hard and Luka's use of
the ball helped Spurs retain possession at a time when AC Milan looked
like they might go on to cause Spurs problems.
The home team were passing the ball
better and when a ball into the D was intercepted by the impressive
Sandro, he knocked a short pass to Modric. Immediately, he turned
the ball past a Milan player to Lennon, some 10 metres outside his own
area and he was off. His little legs were a blur as he raced into
the open grass ahead of him. With no-one near enough to catch him,
Yepes was the only defender ready to face him and he had backed off to
10 metres outside his won box, so when Lennon got there he was at top
speed and with the Colombian more intent on taking the England winger
out, it was simple enough to knock the ball past him and hurdle his
crude challenge. With only Nesta back and Crouch to Lennon's left,
it would have been easy for Aaron to have a shot, but drawing Nesta, he
slipped the ball to his left and Crouch took the shot on first time from
just inside the 18 yard line. Amelia wasn't set for it and the
ball went into the net right by the keeper's right hand post and the
Spurs players went berserk. As did the fans !!
There was still ten minutes left plus the
considerable amount of time it took to treat Corluka, so the job was not
yet done. All game Palacios and Sandro had worked really hard to
stop Milan having the time and space to play and when Ibrahimovic got
into the Spurs box just after the goal, Sandro tracked back excellently
to block his ball in, but also got the final touch off the Swede for a
Tottenham goal-kick. Robinho and Ibrahimovic continued their
decidedly average night with shots wide and high, before Tottenham
started to play keep ball and eat up the time.
With things becoming ever more desperate
for Milan a high ball into the box dropped level with Gomes' left hand
post and with Palacios and Dawson both there, it looked a safe enough
situation to get the ball away. However, they both left it for
each other and with Robinho closing in, Dawson had to throw himself at
the ball to block the resulting shot. Even more worrying was
deeper into the last minute of added time, when a ball came in from the
Milan left and Ibrahimovic planted an over-head kick past Gomes from
five yards out. But way before the ball had entered the goal, the
assistant behind the goal and the one on the touchline had noticed that
the Swedish striker had pushed Dawson out of the way to make room to
execute the effort on goal.
The crowd were not happy with the
decision, but then most of them had left by then. As disapproving
of their team's performance as the Spurs fans were jubilant at the
performance of their side as the final whistle went. Not that the
AC Milan side shared their joy, with Gattuso getting a Spurs shirt
before going up to Joe Jordan and planting a head-butt on his nose.
Knowing Jordan's reputation as a player and that you should never give a
'Glasgow Kiss' to someone from just outside that Scottish city, Gattuso
was risking a lot, but Jordan showed restraint and left the little
Italian looking like a young pretender, who cannot bear the fact that he
will never be a household name.
But the Tottenham stars of tonight all
deserve to be known in households across England and Europe.
Sandro showed he can be a star in midfield, whether it is going forwards
or getting back behind the ball, while Palacios showed a measured
approach to his play not always evident in the Premier League.
Lennon's pace caused problems all night when he was on the ball, while
Pienaar worked the left hand side with determination and skill, as the
midfield stuck to their tasks and left Milan's opposite number looking
ordinary. Crouchy worked tirelessly and got his just reward for
some nasty treatment from Milan's players and van der Vaart dropped off
into those areas that Milan found it hard to pick him up in. The
back four and the goalkeeper were all phenomenal, with Assou-Ekotto
putting in a level-headed display with none of the errors that sometimes
creep into his game, while Corluka had such an easy time, he spent it
getting forward to support Lennon most of the time he was on the pitch
and Dawson and Gallas, and then Woodgate, mopped up most of the supply
into the middle with strength and poise. When it did get past them
it didn't get past Gomes and his two saves proved crucial to the keeping
of the clean sheet.
And a word for the coaches and manager,
who took difficult decisions and they proved to be the right ones, as
Spurs won their individual battles all over the pitch and off it too.
Harry deserves the plaudits for some timely substitutions and for being
brave enough to play Pienaar instead of the in-form Kranjcar and also to
bring on Woodgate, who hadn't played for 15 months instead of putting
Bassong on when Corluka was carried off.
Finally, the fans were magnificent, with
the singing drowning out the Milan chants and going on long into the
night, as they had gone on long before the match.
A night to remember and one that is
becoming all too common in Tottenham's season, as the Champions League
adventure rolls on. It is not won yet, but the physical score-line
as well as the psychological damage the 1-0 win will have puts the team
in with a great chance of going even further. We will see what the
second instalment holds in two weeks time.
Marco van Hip