Subs not used: - Loncaric; Carlos Santos; Tomic; Tadic
Booked: - Lovren (foul on Lennon), Hrgovic (foul on Zokora)
Dynamic Spurs 4 Dinamo Zagreb 0
The Harry Redknapp inspired Spurs revival continued apace last night, as Spurs gave their best team performance of the season to date, and for a long while to totally dominate the Croatian League Champions and current league leaders. It was a dynamic performance featuring only Darren Bent’s second career hat-trick, and an inspired performance from Tom Huddlestone who scored a goal to rank alongside David Bentley’s goal at The Emirates, both of which will live in the memory for a long time.
Spurs’ UEFA Cup campaign is back on track, as they moved into second place in their group, with games against Nijmegen (beaten by this Zagreb side) and Spartak Moscow to come. On this form, progress to the knock-out phase is assured, with one more win probably enough to take us through.
Luke Modric was also inspired against his old team last night, seeing plenty of the ball, and having more success with his distribution as the game progressed. There was another Spurs headline-maker last night as John Bostock became the youngest man to play for Spurs at 16 years and 295 days old. Bostock won applause, not just for that, but for two good touches too!
The obvious question was asked by many after the game, which was “How good were we, and how bad were they?” Well, you can only beat what is put in front of you, and Spurs did that in style, with Gomes hardly tested, and the whole team working hard. Only the full backs might be accused of having below par performances, but this is not an occasion to focus on the negative, as there were so many good individual performances.
Woodgate wore the armband, and Michael Dawson made his first start since 28th September beside him. Lennon also got a start, playing down the left with Bentley on the right. Zokora partnered Huddlestone, whilst Modric played his best role behind the striker, Darren Bent. Spurs made a bright start, winning two quick corners, inspired by Bale’s pass to Lennon who gave right back Lovren a pretty torrid time all night. In fact it was quite a surprise that the referee did not book Lovren until the latter stages of the first half. Modric was also getting short shrift from his former colleagues, and after he was fouled, and a quick free kick, Huddlestone hit the side netting with a shot. Zagreb got a free kick for a foul against Mikic, and Balaban’s kick went just over Gomes’ bar.
After 21 minutes, Bentley’s corner was only half cleared as far as Modric, who hit a shot on target, which was blocked – possibly by his own men in front of goal! Spurs took a deserved lead when Bentley came short to receive a pass from Bale. The ball was fed to Lennon and Modric on the left, and it was Modric’s cross that reached Bent at the back post. Bent fired his shot, which I believe the keeper did touch, as the ball hit the roof of the net. Huddlestone had a half chance with a right footed shot that was held, before Bent and Spurs doubled their tally in the 33rd minute. Modric’s short ball from inside right was deflected off a Spurs player back to Huddlestone, who threaded an excellent short pass through the middle to Bent who made no mistake in front of the South Stand.
Incidentally, I should mention the atmosphere in the Zagreb section of the crowd was excellent, but no doubt worrying for the safety officials as several flares were lit during the first half. In the second half, most of the away support took off their shirts, as they remained vocal throughout, despite their team giving them nothing to cheer. Gomes only real test of the night came after 41 minutes, when Sammir gave a pass to Balaban, who hit a good low shot, saved and held by Gomes low at his left post. Sammir was then replaced before the break by Morales, who started up front with Balaban, but in the second half withdrew to the middle as top scorer Mandzukic moved forward from his left field position.
Zagreb’s coach Branko Ivankovic also replaced centre back Drpic at the break with Etto, and for the first ten minutes or so, the visitors put the Spurs defence under a little pressure. Bent had a good chance for his hat trick when Bentley crossed deep, and Bent had a free header which he put wide after 54 minutes. Three minutes later, Bentley hit a powerful shot which the keeper parried, and his defence cleared. Modric then had a go from a tight angle, which the keeper pushed out for a corner, from which Spurs scored a spectacular third goal. Bentley’s corner was a pass to Huddlestone lurking 28 yards away from goal. Tom was able to tee the ball up for an absolute pile-driver of a shot which went low and hard into the bottom left corner for an ecstatic celebration by player, team and crowd. Without doubt, this was the best goal seen at The Lane this season, and for a long time.
Huddlestone was now on fire, and one of his strengths in this game was not his long passing game, but accurate and piercing short threaded balls through the middle. This is just the type of ball that has always produced results for any team, and tonight was no exception. Such a ball was fed to Bent who put it in the net with a delicate shot lifted over the keeper, but the flag had already harshly been raised for an alleged offside. The move worked though in the 70th minute, as Huddlestone found Bent, who made a good finish after one touch for his hat-trick in front of the Paxton End.
Now Zagreb were suffering under the pressure, as Hrgovic saw yellow for bringing a Zokora run to an end, and skipper Biscan (wearing a head bandage) was given “words” by the lenient referee for his foul on Bentley. Bale had a shot saved after a Bentley corner and a Modric pass. Modric was then replaced (to great applause) by Fraizer Campbell, as Spurs reverted to a 4-4-2, and Bostock made that historic debut, replacing Bentley. Lennon switched to the right side, and Bostock played on the left. Bostock had a great first touch with a well directed pass to Bent down the left channel. After 82 minutes, Campbell’s persistence down the left side paid off, and he passed inside to Huddlestone, whose shot was saved and cleared for a Spurs throw on the right. After the throw, Bostock hit a shot low just outside the post.
Woodgate was replaced by Gunter who went to right back, whilst Hutton moved inside. Dawson took the armband. Zagreb had one more chance just before the end when Mandzukic crossed from the right to the near post, where substitute Badelj headed wide.
The next test for Tottenham comes on Sunday at Eastlands against Manchester City, who beat Steve McClaren’s FC Twente 3-2 last night. Without a doubt, a result in that game is more important than progress in the UEFA Cup, but this was a game to savour. Harry Redknapp’s Spurs are unbeaten in four games, in which they have scored 12 goals!