Tim Sherwood recently called for his team to show character. Tonight – in the second half at least – they did.
Trailing 3-1 from a disastrous first leg and then going yet another goal down, the makeshift Spurs team suddenly found strength and resilience, and with it two quite amazing goals inside two minutes.
That those goals came quite splendidly from the boot of Nacir Chadli – he who had spurned two very reasonable chances only a few days previously – was all the more surprising.
Benfica had gone ten home games in all competitions without conceding any goals, suddenly they looked like they were heading out of the competition despite their superiority carried forward from the encounter last week.
They fielded close to a full strength team, we were without any recognised centre back. The vast majority of our team weren´t even born when our goalkeeper won his first international cap – let alone played professional football – such was the disparity in age – and experience – within our squad.
It took time for both teams to get into their stride but we were in the ascendance early on with Soldado being pulled back by his marker – who got yellow carded – and then, when left unmarked at the far post, should have done better than thump the ball into the turf and wide.
Against the run of play Benfica broke down the left, Lennon was the last defender (why Lennon and why there?) and a gentle clip into the area was thumped home.
Surely any slim hope disappeared at that point but we rallied and rallied well. Into the second half and we still seemed to harbour some belief that we could pull off the miracle.
Chadli had the ball at his feet, ducked inside and drove an unstoppable shot into the back of the net. Less than two minutes later and Chadli was at it again – latching onto a Kane header to turn and thump the ball into the top of the net.
At 2-1 we only needed another goal to force extra time, at which point any goals we scored would count for double in the event of a draw. We had more chances, we had a very decent penalty shout, we pressed and pressed and we played some of our best football for some time – probably since we went to Newcastle to be fair.
But, as we pressed forward and time ran down, our fortune ran out. Sandro was a split second late in the tackle – he had been inch perfect all night – and they were awarded a last gasp penalty, enabling them to preserve their long unbeaten record – if not their dignity.
Tonight we did deserve to win.
We actually deserved to be in the next round of the Europa League. It is just a shame that we did not show the same degree of character last week as we did tonight.
It is a shame that we did not show exactly that degree of character over the past week against Le Arse and Chelski. Against Citeh in our two games this season. Against Liverpool, against WetSpam, in fact in virtually every game we have played.
That second half performance tonight should be used by Tim and his management team to show exactly how you are supposed to go about winning a game of football – any game of football – and against any opposition.
If we go to Anfield in ten days time and play like that we actually have a great chance of upsetting Liverpool.
If we can sustain that level of performance over the last eight League games we will finish fifth – that is guaranteed. Whether we can finish higher is dependent on whether other teams above us drop points – but now anything is possible.
Following the defeat at the hands of Le Arse I was at a seriously low ebb – I had given up on the season – I believed only a miracle could save us.
We did not get that miracle. What we got was a pure unadultered performance, a performance of character, and that perhaps is the best tonic we can have.