Tottenham continued their long, slow trek to May's final in Bucharest last night with a goalless draw in Greece. Harry Redknapp said afterwards that he was "pleased with the performance, particularly in the first half," although neither the pace nor its intensity of the game presented a compelling advert for the Europa League.
It was a different European competition that framed Redknapp's team selection last night. As the Tottenham manager knows, the Champions League is the only game in town, and Spurs are desperate to get back into it after last season's tantalising campaign. While the Manchester pair and Chelsea may finish ahead of them, Tottenham hope to be in competition with Arsenal and Liverpool for fourth place by the end of the season. On Sunday Liverpool come to White Hart Lane for a fixture as important as any league game can claim to be on 18 September.
With Liverpool on his mind, Redknapp rested nearly his whole first team. As he did for the dead second leg against Hearts – when Spurs had a 5-0 lead – he played youngsters Andros Townsend, Tom Carroll and Harry Kane. New signing Iago Falqué started, as did his fellow Barcelona graduate Giovani dos Santos.
"The young players have never seen that before," Redknapp said after the match, "and it must have been a difficult experience for them, but I thought they coped very well."
Tottenham played the subtler football from the start. Jake Livermore anchored the five-man midfield, while Carroll, Falqué and Giovani rotated positions and moved the ball between them. They created the better early chances. Kane broke into the box, reached Giovani's cross but could only head the ball at Dario Kresic.
It was another forward run from Kane which sparked the game's most dramatic spell, half an hour in. The 18-year-old was cut down in the penalty area by Contreras, but referee Milorad Mazic booked him for diving. PAOK broke, releasing Stefanos Athanasiadis behind the cumbersome Vedran Corluka. Athanasiadis drew contact from goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini, and Mazic this time awarded the penalty. Left-back Lino scored, but encroachment forced a retake, which was inevitably dragged wide.
After the break, Athanasiadis continued to taunt Corluka with his movement. He volleyed over at the near post, before forcing a reaction save from Cudicini in the final minutes. Midfielder Vieirinha did the same, before Vladimir Ivic headed against the bar. Spurs rarely created anything nearly as threatening.
PAOK Salonika (4-4-2) Kresic; Malezas, Contreras, Lino, Etto; Garcia, Fotakis (Ivic, 61), Arias, Vieirinha; Athanasiadis, Salpingidis. Substitutes not used Chalkias (gk), Balafas, Robert, Papazoglou, Sznaucner, Tsoukalas.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2) Cudicini, Walker, Corluka, Bassong, Townsend; Falque (Fredericks, 81), Livermore, Carroll, Giovani; Kane, Pavlyuchenko. Substitutes not used Gomes (gk), Nicholson, Pritchard, Parrett, Stewart, Barthram.
Referee: M Mazic (Serb)Reuse content