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Royal Blush – Spurs Embarrassed In Antwerp

3 min read
by Ewan Flynn

Tottenham’s summer transfer business was supposed to negate the need for Kane to be involved on Thursday nights like this.

A woeful first-half performance condemned Tottenham to a 1-0 defeat in Antwerp in the Europa League. It was a night from which Jose Mourinho will be hard-pressed to find a single positive.

The depth and quality of Tottenham’s squad should be a cause for optimism as the club searches for a first trophy since 2008. Here, however, it proved Spurs undoing. Nine changes from the side that beat Burnley on Monday resulted in a disjointed, confidence-sapping start to the game. Players like Gareth Bale and Giovani Lo Celso are still clearly searching for form and fitness. Whilst the likes of Harry Winks and Dele Alli, afforded rare starts here, are having to adjust to life as Europa League ensemble cast having once been Premier League stars.

The one moment of quality from Spurs in the first-half saw Alli send Vinicius on his way with a lovely lofted pass over the home defence. The Brazilian, so impressive against LASK a week ago, was preoccupied with working the ball on to his left foot as he ran through. This allowed De Laet to slide in and snuff out what should have been an excellent chance to open the scoring. Other than two speculative shots from Bale and Lo Celso, that was as good as it got for Spurs before the interval.

A lack of movement at the top of the pitch combined with an increasing frequency of sideways and backwards passes, soon had Hugo Lloris bellowing at those in front of him with increased anxiety. Antwerp were in the ascendancy, and a goal was coming. Spurs only had themselves to blame when in the 29th minute it arrived.

Reguilon lingered on the ball before turning back and passing to Ben Davies. Davies, in turn, dallied. Mbokani, Antwerp’s Congolese striker, pounced upon this hesitancy and relieved the defender of possession. As the exposed Sanchez came across to cover, Mbokani squared the ball to his strike partner Refaelov. His assured first touch lifted the ball invitingly off the turf, his second, a fierce half volley from the penalty-spot left Lloris with no chance. Davies raised a hand in apology before the ball had hit the net. It was an unfortunate way for the Welshman to mark his 200th Spurs appearance.

Four substitutions by Mourinho at half-time – Hojbjerg, Lamela, Moura and Son for Lo Celso, Alli, Bergwijn and Vinicius – underlined the ineptitude of Tottenham’s first-half. The only complaint those replaced could have was that they were no more deserving of the hook than those who stayed on.

Before the replacements had managed a meaningful touch of the ball, Antwerp had a chance to kill the game. A careless ball played back by Winks dissected his own defence, leaving Refaelov to race through on Lloris’s goal. Fortunately for Winks, Davinson Sanchez’s pace allowed him to recover sufficiently to slide in with a smothering block.

Antwerp’s next chance, coming seven minutes later, appeared unmissable. Koji Miyoshi, having escaped on the right of the Tottenham defence, cut a low ball across the goal to Mbokani, unmarked and no more than two yards out. The striker, leaning back, somehow contrived to send the ball high over the crossbar.

Mourinho had seen enough. Harry Kane was sent on replacing the pallid Bale with less than an hour on the clock. Tottenham’s summer transfer business was supposed to negate the need for Kane to be involved on Thursday nights like this. The showing of those standing in for him here makes it unlikely Kane will get another night off anytime soon.

The England captain’s introduction did improve Spurs. But those attacks Kane was able to prompt floundered time and again on the rock-solid defending of the outstanding Ritchie de Laet. In truth, the more Spurs pushed for an equaliser, the more vulnerable they looked to a fatal counter-attack. Simen Juklerod wasted the Belgian side’s best opportunity to seal the victory, thrashing his shot wildly over the bar having sprung the ragged Tottenham rearguard. The miss proved inconsequential as Antwerp’s clean-sheet remained intact.

Before the referee blew up to confirm what was Tottenham’s first defeat since the opening day of the season, there was a surreal moment when a cluster of fireworks suddenly exploded above the empty stadium. Given his team’s display, Mourinho may well have handed out a few rockets of his own on the flight home.

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Freelance football writer for When Saturday Comes The Blizzard and FourFourTwo. Author of We Are Sunday League

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