This was a fine game and very nearly an excellent result. That it came from our ‘B team’ says something about either the strength or the one-dimensional state of our squad.
There were ten changes from Saturday but not only that, there was a change of formation away from Pochettino’s habitual wrong-footed wingers and single, normally out numbered striker. Townsend began on the left and Paulinho (yes, you read that correctly) on the right. You’ve got to feel sorry for him. Kane was sort of alongside Soldado but in fact worked his socks off in front of Bentaleb and Stambouli, and boy he needed to.
This game was played at a tempo rarely seen in this competition with Besiktas never allowing a moment’s peace to our midfield or defence. Pochettino will have been very impressed with the pressure exerted on our players whilst in possession; perhaps this eleven will have learnt something about how he wants them to play.
Kane’s Bale-esque finish came after Townsend had found Bentaleb some space with a reverse pass. The Turks could have been well in front by then but luckily Demba Bad was their man up front and he was as profligate as ever. The goal knocked them back a bit and Kane had a good chance to extend the lead before half time but the keeper parried over.
The second half was more even as they attacked and we hit them on the break. Kane and Bentaleb had chances but as we tired and they pushed it was only Hugo who was keeping them at bay with a series of fine stops including one very memorable point blank reflex save. Pochettino brought on Dembele, Lennon and Adebayor in an attempt to beef things up (Bentaleb in particular was being strong armed off the ball with ease) and force us over the line but Chiriches was having the sort of day at the office that would only be described as good if he worked for Dignitas. All the good hard work of the previous 87 minutes was undone in the time it took for him to misjudge a through ball and then flick a hand at it in front of the referee. Ba celebrated his successful penalty by praying on his hands and knees in front of his team’s fans whilst his teammates meandered back to the halfway line. Most odd.
You felt sorry more than anything for the most of the side, especially the outstanding Hugo and the tireless Kane. The latter can’t be far from featuring more prominently in the first team I’d guess. Fazio did himself no harm and I thought Townsend provided something creative and different if nothing else. He had a blinding chance to curl one in near the end but as is his want, skied it. Chiriches and Soldado played themselves more out than in to the first team picture I’d say.
Poch’s substitutions are normally one of his strong points but as on Saturday the introduction of Lennon just added a randomness to the game rather than a steely grip and Adebayor for Soldado was a bad move. Kane was out on his feet by then, Lamela for Harry would’ve been a better move.
Two points from two games isn’t the best of starts but this was always going to be a tough group to qualify from especially given that we’re apparently going to play our Possibles not Probables. Win our other two home games and get a good result in Greece and that’s eleven points before we go to Istanbul and we’re laughing.
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