Tottenham 2-2 K.A.A. Gent (2-3 Agg.) From Wembley
It’s that time of year again. The winter chill is giving way to fresh spring warmth, the daffodils are just revealing their shoots, and Spurs are crashing out of European competition. It’s become an all too familiar feeling for Tottenham fans – the hope that this year things might be different and they will finally do themselves justice on the European stage being crushed in an instant in a limp display.
So it was at Wembley last night, as Spurs welcomed Gent in the Europa League last 32, hoping to avenge a 1-0 first leg defeat to the Belgian outfit last week. As a bumper crowd of just over 80,000 filed into Wembley, there was optimism amongst the home support that Spurs would run out comfortable winners despite the narrow first leg deficit. Mauricio Pochettino had named his strongest possible lineup, straying from his usual tendency to field a weakened side in the Europa League.
His selection immediately paid dividends. Spurs gained control from the outset, enjoying copious amounts of possession in their opponent’s half, with Harry Kane and Dele Alli looking as lively as ever.
However, it was nothing more than a hopeful punt upfield that led to Tottenham’s opening goal. Eric Dier was the provider, his long ball causing confusion between two Gent defenders, allowing the effervescent Christian Eriksen to steal in and slide the ball through the legs of Lovre Kalinic in the visitors’ goal.
Before this match, Spurs had not won in any of their three Champions League games at Wembley before Christmas, with many a pundit citing the arena’s size and cavernous atmosphere as a source of Tottenham’s abject showings. Last night though, Wembley was rocking after Eriksen’s opener, as fans began to sense a hammering may be on the cards.
Gent, currently only eighth in Belgium’s top tier, had other ideas. They forced an equaliser midway through the first half as Danijel Milicevic’s cross was diverted inexplicably into his own net by Harry Kane, sparking jubilation amongst the rowdy travelling support.
The key moment of this game, though, occurred just five minutes before half-time. Dele Alli, feeling aggrieved at not being awarded a free-kick moments earlier, unleashed his frustration on Gent’s Brecht Dejaeghere with a senseless lunge, catching the midfielder high on the knee. Referee Manuel de Sousa showed no hesitation in giving Alli his marching order – the 20 year-old’s first red card of his career. This was a game where Spurs needed Alli’s creativity and energy more than ever, but the young player proved he still has a lot to learn as he allowed petulance to cloud his judgment.
Even with 10 men, Spurs were the dominant side, but struggled to create many clear chances in the second half. Kane, desperate to make amends for his first half blunder, flashed an angled shot wide when he really should have it the target. Eriksen also had a sight of goal, but rolled a tame effort wide of the near post as the home side pressed for the two goals they needed to win the tie.
When Spurs did make the breakthrough on the hour mark, it came from an unlikely source. Defensive midfielder Victor Wanyama got on the end of an Eriksen flick and rifled a shot high into the top corner, reinvigorating the home support.
With Gent backs firmly pressed against the wall, Tottenham continued to push. Kalinic was forced into a smart save as his own defender Rami Gershon almost headed into his own net. Kyle Walker, a constant menace on the right side, saw his shot flash against the side netting.
However, attacking with such intent with only 10 men naturally left Spurs susceptible to the counter attack. Moses Simon was presented with a free header from Kenneth Saief cross but the Nigerian only found the side netting.
The visitors did equalise soon after, taking advantage of some catastrophic Spurs defending to set up substitute Jeremy Perbet – who scored the only goal of the first leg – who prodded the ball past Lloris. This caused pandemonium in the large away support, and sparked a mass exodus of home fans from Wembley – fans once again left demoralised after another sorry performance in Europe.