Friday, April 13, 2007

The good, the bad and the ugly

Despite many of us thinking that this year's Uefa Cup had our name on it, it wasn't to be. A disastrous opening ten minutes last night killed off any hopes we had of concluding the season in Glasgow. Despite the disappointment there were some positives to take from the evening.

But before I dwell on the good, the bad and the ugly, a word or two on BMJ. Regular readers will know I'm a huge fan of the Dutchman and lobbied hard for him on this site when he faced significant criticism earlier in the season. But since he returned to favour I haven't written a great deal. Well before anyone attempts to pass any of the blame for last night's cup exit onto him I thought I'd speak up in his defence.

On the good side, Jol calmed the troops at half time, refocused them and then rallied them ahead of an enthralling second half. We played the second 45 minutes with more determination than I've ever seen from us. The lads chased every ball and closed down every Sevilla player whilst still playing with enough creativity to create plenty of goal-scoring opportunities.

After the first half frustrations it was encouraging to see us realistically create enough chances to score the four goals we needed. A shame we could only convert two of those but then the whole night was one of "what ifs"...

The final positive I'd takeaway was the attitude of the fans. We might have taken a while to adjust to the shock of falling behind so quickly, but the 14 minute rendition of 'Martin Jol's Blue Army' at the start of the second half made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. As did the constant barrage of noise right up to the final whistle (and the many fans who didn't rush off at the end, but stayed to applaud the lads for their second half fight back).

I don't think at half time I'd have expected any Spurs fans to be left by the end. The performance we were forced to endure in those early minutes could only be described as inept. If I had watched the match at home I'd have turned off the TV (that's if I hadn't put a foot through the screen already).

So the bad points of the night would have to centre on the individual errors, the static defence that let Sevilla run through it like a hot knife through butter, the failure to challenge for the 'second ball', our inability to keep possession... need I go on?

It made me angry to watch and the deft touches from Kanoute to score their second goal rubbed salt into the wounds. The guy never showed ball control like that when he played for us!

And as for the ref, was there some conspiracy at work? We might label Premiership refs as inconsistent, but these Continental Europeans are a law unto themselves. If it wasn't for the abject first half Tottenham performance I'd have left last night blaming our cup exit at the hands of the dodgy Austrian in the middle.

So there may have been far too many negatives for our liking but I don't think these can be blamed on BMJ. The nerves got to the players in those opening exchanges and only more experience in the big games will help rectify those failings in future. Chimbonda had an abysmal first half and I did wonder whether he should have played in his preferred right back berth, but I think Jol was right to play our best fit full-back on the side to try and counter the dangerous Sevilla right flank.

Well it was dangerous when it wasn't cheating. Which brings me onto the ugly. Sevilla are a side who are flying at present - both domestically and in Europe. If we'd have lost to a classy side that`d played fair tonight I'd have wished them well and would bare no ill will against them. But the constant feigning of injury, from Daniel Alves and Puerta in particular, was infuriating. Sevilla are a great side and should have had the dignity to rely on their football skills and not their ability to deceive the match officials. Fortunately Robbo took matters into his own hands when he wrestled Puerta off the pitch (after Puerta 'injured' himself against the advertising hoardings and then crawled onto the pitch to try and disrupt play).

Personally I think FIFA should do two things: video evidence should be used and suspensions handed out after matches; and any player who is 'injured' should not be allowed back onto the pitch for five minutes (you know, if they`re really hurt they should be given adequate time to recover). I'm sure those to measures alone would clean up the game.

So enough of my reflections. The fact is we had a great cup run in our first season back in Europe, but it had to end sometime. Shame is was before the end of the campaign, but the key thing now is that we ensure our league finish is good enough for us to have another stab at the Uefa Cup next season.

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