For 10 minutes last night there was a serious danger that every bar in Dublin, and plenty in London, would be drunk dry. That was the length of time early in the second half here that Shamrock Rovers led Tottenham Hotspur before three quick goals by the Premier League side restored sanity to the scoreline.
In the end, Spurs recorded their first victory in Europa League Group A, but not before Rovers, the first Irish team to reach the group stage of a European competition, had threatened to pull off one of the shock results of the season so far.
Having absorbed all that Tottenham could throw at them in a one-sided first half, the part-timers from south Dublin scored from their first shot on target four minutes after the break. Their dreams of a famous upset were ended by Roman Pavyluchenko, Jermain Defoe and Giovani dos Santos, but an estimated 4,000 Shamrock supporters cheered the underdogs to the final whistle and beyond
"Obviously you're concerned because you think maybe it's going to be one of those nights," Harry Redknapp, the Spurs manager, said. "They were excellent, worked their socks off and made it difficult for us. But we stuck a couple of chances away and finished it."
Redknapp had made it plain with his team selection that his priority is to return to the Champions League rather than to win the Europa League. He made 10 changes to the side that beat Wigan Athletic last Saturday, and last night's XI will bear little resemblance to the one that faces Arsenal at White Hart Lane this Sunday. Aaron Lennon tested a groin injury, but came off at the interval with stiffness and is a doubt for the weekend.
"We'll give it [the Europa League] our best shot and see where it takes us," Reknapp added. "Hopefully we can get through the qualifying group and then look at it again.
"The Premier League is always, for me, the biggest. It's no good at the end of the year people saying Tottenham did well, they got to the semi-final of the Europa League, but finished seventh or eighth in the league again. That's not what I want."
Redknapp still fielded six full internationals, with Luka Modric and Gareth Bale on the bench as insurance, and his side dominated the first half only to be frustrated by the woodwork and Richard Brush, the Birmingham-born Rovers goalkeeper. Dos Santos was Spurs' best performer, the Mexican forcing two early saves from Brush, and setting up Defoe for a shot that the goalkeeper somehow managed to deflect onto the crossbar. Brush got his body in the way again when a slip by his captain, Daniel Murray, gave Pavlyuchenko a chance to shoot from 10 yards.
Tottenham went close once more when Danny Rose curled a shot against the bar, Murray making up for his earlier error by blocking Pavlyuchenko's follow-up with his face. Stephen O'Donnell then chested the ball off the goalline when the Russian was given a free header at goal
After 49 minutes of one-way traffic, Rovers shocked White Hart Lane by taking the lead. Carlo Cudicini could only parry Gary McCabe's stinging free kick, right-back Patrick Sullivan drove the ball back at goal and Stephen Rice flicked it home from close range.
Tottenham were temporarily stunned but recovered to turn the match with three goals in six minutes. Dos Santos crossed from the left for the unmarked Pavlyuchenko to head home just short of the hour, and two minutes later Defoe nodded in a carbon copy from Andros Townsend's cross. Dos Santos got the goal he deserved three minutes after that, taking Defoe's pass on the right and lashing the ball past Brush.
"Ultimately Tottenham's pace and freshness overcame us in the last half hour, but I can't ask any more of the players," Michael O'Neill, the Rovers manager, said. "They were a credit to themselves, the club and the League of Ireland. It was end-to-end in the second half – although more towards one end if I'm honest."
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Cudicini; Walker, Corluka, Bassong, Rose (Kane, 80); Lennon (Townsend, h-t), Livermore, Carroll, Dos Santos; Pavlyuchenko, Defoe (Falque, 72). Substitutes not used Gomes (gk), Bale, Kaboul, Modric.
Shamrock Rovers (4-1-4-1): Brush; Sullivan, Sives, Murray, Paterson (Stevens, h-t); Rice; McCabe, Finn (Ricketts, 72), O'Donnell (McCormack, h-t), Dennehy; Twigg. Substitutes not used Thompson, Sheppard, Kilduff, Turner.
Referee G Mazeika (Lithuania).Reuse content