Spurs win pointless Europa match

Posted by John Crace

It was quite the most pointless game of the season. A game that the manager, players and fans would all rather not have been played. A game that meant nothing. Win 6-0 or lose 6-0, Spurs had already qualified for the knock-out stages of the Europa Cup. Win 6-0 or lose 6-0, the only match that really matters is Sunday's home fixture against Manchester United. A win -- or failing that, at the very least, a spirited performance -- and Andre Villas Boas and his team get some breathing space. Anything else and the vultures start to circle ever closer.

• Report: Tromso 0-2 Tottenham

In the event, Spurs came away with a 2-0 win over Tromso, thanks to an own goal and Mousa Dembele's first strike since his late, late match winner against Lyon in the same competition last year. It was a win that maintained their unbeaten record in the Europa League this year, but also one that will have done little to reassure anyone that everything is back on track after the humiliating defeat against Manchester City last Sunday.

To be fair, conditions weren't the easiest. Tromso is situated north of the Arctic Circle and even the Norwegians find it cold at this time of year. Arguably, the only happy Spurs first-team players were Hugo Lloris, Kyle Walker, Younes Kaboul, Sandro, Paulinho, Aaron Lennon and Jermain Defoe, who were all left behind in London.

Snow started falling just before kick-off and with the match being played on an artificial surface -- anyone remember Spurs going 3-0 down to Young Boys of Berne within half an hour in their Champions League qualifier on a plastic pitch? -- the guiding principle for Spurs was going to be safety first. Keep things tight, keep things simple and try to get through the 90 minutes with little fuss and no injuries.

They managed it well enough, though it might have been a different story had Tromso managed to tuck away a clear chance inside the first 40 seconds. Going a goal down inside a minute for the second time in two games might have sent a few nerves jangling. Thereafter, Spurs settled a little though they still looked anything but fluent. The personnel may have been changed but it was the same old story on the pitch. Plenty of possession but no penetration.

Nacer Chadli proved no better than anyone else has been at getting the ball to Roberto Soldado, who was retained up front as a lone striker. Soldado ran hard but yet again had little to show for his efforts and by halftime he was beginning to look decidedly tetchy. Partly due, no doubt, to the lack of service he was getting but also to the fact that he was playing at all. Defoe being left to put his feet up in London was a clear pointer that Soldado may not start against Manchester United this weekend. Maybe Defoe's gambit -- surely all bluff given his desire to make the England World cup squad -- of leaking stories that he might go to play for Toronto in the MLS in January is paying off.

For nearly 20 minutes into the second half it appeared that Spurs were going to fire yet more blanks. Before today they had scored only two goals throughout November; both of them against the indifferent FC Sherriff. Then Adnan Causevic put through his own net while under pressure from the excellent Vlad Chiriches -- who must be worth a start on Sunday -- and Spurs visibly relaxed. A second goal soon followed and only the inside of the post denied Spurs a third.

So, AVB can point to a job done. His team returned from Norway with a victory and no injuries. It was all that anyone could really ask. But everyone knows it was all really just a minor sideshow. Something that had to be got out of the way. The real business starts at lunchtime on Sunday.

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