With Spurs’ final Europa League group game against Anzhi Makhachkala being a dead rubber, both teams had already qualified with Spurs as group winners, it didn’t look good.
The previous five games Spurs had played in the group stage had all been pretty turgid affairs encapsulating everything that had been wrong with them this season. A nothing game to go with what had gone before, a visiting side on a complete downer and somewhat patchwork home side’s defence shouldn’t have filled anyone’s heart with joy.
In fact I was waiting for a 90 minutes where Kyle Naughton was the only Spurs player to touch the ball.
Strangely the exact opposite happened. With most of the possession coming down the left, starting with the returning Danny Rose at left-back – who’d have thought he’d have been so missed over the last 3 months. Though it didn’t start swimmingly as lost possession gave the visitors a very early chance to open the scoring.
But it didn’t happen, thankfully the scoring was opened by one man who will benefit from this nothing game more than anyone. Townsend, playing on the left, was fouled right on the edge of the box. from the free-kick Sigurdsson crossed onto the head of the only white shirt in the 6 yard box, Soldado, who just nodded it over the ‘keeper’s outstretched hand and inside the back post.
The joy of relief.
You could see he was quite happy to get off the snide, as were his team-mates. It again showed that give him the right balls and he’ll score. Which was ably shown minutes later. Dembele picked the ball up in the middle of the park a little charge forward – he so much better when going forward than those sideways balls – then a glorious pass to Lamela, whose nutmeg into the area found a great run by Soldado, one excellent touch to control and then a second to score, showed that get it to him in the box and goals will come.
Spurs were in control though not without the odd problem for that makeshift back four. Capoue at centre-back made one shot saving tackle that was very Sandroesque and Friedel made a couple of good saves. Right up until a minute before the break when they let in a sloppy goal from a corner.
But Lamela wasn’t seeing the ball. He was on the right and it was all coming down the left, Townsend with some excellent direct running at the defenders. It was bizarre as Naughton – at right-back – is normally a ball magnet. And bizarrely as Rose came off at half-time Naughton shifted to the left with Fredericks coming on at right-back but no luck for Lamela as he and Townsend also swapped flanks and everything now came down the right. The game just bypassed the Argentinian at a distance.
It did mean the new kid, Fredericks, saw quite a bit of action. He had dodgy few minutes in the second half but then came into the game with some good runs in support of Townsend and had a few decent crosses.
The two goal lead was restored 10 minutes into the second half. Townsend cut inside and dinked a nice ball over the defence right onto the foot of Holtby, who had made a great run into the area, his second touch with the same foot lobbed the ball over the ‘keeper. Two goals in just over a week and two crackers, no doubt there was still moaners at his presence in the side.
Though now along with Lamela not seeing the ball neither was Soldado in the areas he likes. He was out wide doing work for others but wasn’t on the end of the decent service he got in the first half.
His next real chance didn’t come until the 70th minute after the ref had pointed at the spot after consultation with his ninth, tenth, twelfth assistant. Yes it was a bit of a shot one with Fredericks being slightly clipped. But it made up for the numerous handballs that could have been given along with the two falls and a submission hold one of the Anzhi defenders put on Lamela.
Soldado nearly cemented his place as a true Spurs player as he came close to having the penalty saved.
But no it was his hat-trick and should be a huge boost going forward. Just as long as the play the type of balls that saw him get his first two on the night. If he’d have had that kind of service so far this year, he’d be top scorer and Spurs would be top of the league.
So onto the next round come the New Year. Yeah a weak group but played 6, won 6, scored 15 conceded 2, without setting the world alight.