Tottenham find goals just in time to progress in Europe
Goals from Eriksen and Adebayor (2) see off the threat of Dnipro at White Hart Lane
Goalscorers: Christian Eriksen and Emmanuel Adebayor of Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. Photograph: Jamie McDonald/Getty Images
Tottenham 3 Dnipro 1 (Tottenham win 3-2 on aggregate)
There has been a lingering suspicion this season that Tottenham would be better off out of the Europa League, despite Tim Sherwood’s protestations to the contrary. This competition can be a grind before it reaches the latter stages, the sheer amount of travel and matches involved often weighing Tottenham down in the league. It was hardly a coincidence that their worst performance since Sherwood replaced Andre Villas-Boas, last Sunday’s 1-0 defeat at Norwich City, came three days after losing the first leg of this tie.
Tottenham were outplayed in Ukraine last week, Yevhen Konoplyanka’s penalty enough to secure victory for Dnipro. Yet Dnipro’s lead was not insurmountable and Sherwood picked a team with attack in mind. It was a no-frills approach, pace and trickery in the wide positions and two strikers, Emmanuel Adebayor and Roberto Soldado, up front. For Soldado, this was another opportunity to prove his critics wrong and the Spaniard began as if he had a point to make, conceding a foul inside the first 10 seconds.
Tottenham lacked incision, though, their moves regularly floundering on the edge of the area. Other than an early Christian Eriksen volley that was deflected just over, Tottenham rarely threatened, often reduced to pumping hopeful long balls.
The sight of his old side struggling for inspiration must have been a familiar feeling for Ramos. He lost the Tottenham job in October 2008 after a disastrous start to the season had left them bottom with two points from eight games. Yet despite the Spaniard’s reputation as a failure in England, he has an impressive CV – as he was keen to remind everyone beforehand, he won the League Cup with Tottenham and twice won the Uefa Cup with Sevilla. Ramos’s Dnipro side are no mugs, either. While they were often content to soak up pressure, they were slick when they broke and, in Konoplyanka, they had a player who could turn a match in their favour in an instant. The left winger was a constant thorn in Kyle Naughton’s side, while Matheus’s pace on the opposite flank also troubled Tottenham. Matheus wasted Dnipro’s best opening when he fell dramatically in the area after feeling Michael Dawson’s arm on his back, his appeals for a penalty falling on deaf ears, while Ivan Strinic also took too long to shoot after finding space.
How Tottenham could have done with their greatest ever goalscorer in Europe. However a hamstring injury prevented Jermain Defoe from playing one last game before heading off to Major League Soccer to join FC Toronto; he had to settle for an emotional appearance on the pitch at half-time.
And Tottenham were missing his poaching instincts, although perhaps it was of more concern to Sherwood that his 4-4-2 formation had allowed Dnipro to swamp them in midfield. It felt like Tottenham were playing into the hands of streetwise opponents and it was not a surprise when they fell behind two minutes into the second half. When Dnipro won a free-kick on the left, the delivery of their captain, Ruslan Rotan, was exquisite and Roman Zozulya’s glancing header high to Hugo Lloris’s right.
The concession of an away goal meant that Tottenham had to score three to progress and their response was commendable. First Soldado was denied an equaliser by an offside flag, before Christian Eriksen gave Tottenham a lifeline by bending a low free-kick inside Denis Boyko’s right post after 55 minutes. Then Dnipro pressed the self-destruct button. Zozulya had been bickering with Jan Vertonghen all match and he eventually snapped when provoked before a Tottenham free-kick, catching the Belgian in the face with his head to earn himself a red card.
The temperature was rising and Tottenham were rampant, even more so when Adebayor beat Boyko after 65 minutes. Tottenham still needed one more goal and it duly arrived four minutes later, Adebayor chesting down a long ball and finishing confidently. Never in doubt.