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Saturday, 23 February 2013

The Europa league Myth

So we found ourselves with a difficult fixture away at Lyon. Difficult for myself and two others in the sense that we nearly weren't allowed to travel to France, then delays left us reeling at missing our connecting train to Lyon, then we found the delights of not being able to check-in until 4pm. Missing the first 10 minutes of the game topped it all off. In footballing terms, I suppose this fixture would also prove just as much of an obstacle. We found sleep to be overrated anyway.

The past has seen us brandish the Europa League as almost a poison, slowly weltering our season into nothingness. A painful finale to a season that, again, offered so much promise and hope. European football once more seeping the life from the side as apparently footballers are incapable of playing two games of football a week, every other week. Athletes? Limited ones at best then.

We arrived at the "Starde De Gerrard" 10 minutes after kick-off. *Quote one Spurs fan barely able to string a sentence together*. In all honesty, the place was rocking. I struggled to pick out their family stand and stewards telling them to sit down. One goal without conceding was all Lyon needed. We knew it, the players knew it, their fans knew it. An arguable freekick just shy of twenty minutes saw Lyon grab the opportunity by the lower regions and that all-important goal they needed. Such is my pessimism, I felt we'd fall to a 2-1 defeat here with Extra-time or penalties sealing our fate. With a side battling for the French League and a renewed confidence after going 1 up, it would take a hell of a backbone to pull us back. Of course, we only ever needed one goal.

The half-time whistle was the best bit of the first half. We went in fairly disappointed. Our passing was sloppy, we didn't create too much and it looked as though the occasion was getting to us. My surprise of the second half arrived when Lyon began allowing us to keep the ball for large periods and happily sat back. Instead of seeking a second and more assurance, The French played very backs to the wall. It was almost like a very organised Stoke City side. They soon removed any recognised striker from the field and allowed us to play in front of them. Both sides keeping it very narrow. With the amount of space Benny found himself gaining out wide, it was a shame - at times- to not have Bale striking fear down the right back in that position.

On the whole this season I felt we've improved, although haven't mastered, breaking down stubborn sides. The further Lyon sat the more I felt a chance would fall our way. Would we take it? Who knew. It was very surreal to find a side of Lyon's stature and ability to be sitting in their final third and pumping the ball long. But it suited us down to the ground. Lyon reminded me of the Spurs of old, clinging desperately on to what they had to progress. They became more nervy, more anxious. I'd always gathered the impression that Lyon's 'keeper Vercoutre was a little like our own Gomes - a bit unpredictable. Strikes from range worried him.  As the game wore on I felt just a sniff was what we needed. I've banged on so much of late about the mental strength and the re-ignited belief the Spurs of the present seem to play with. In the 90th minute, Dembele gave us just what we deserved. My mate made a good point in that in a League game an equaliser is great as you go from 0 points to 1 point. In a knockout game we went from crashing out and total defeat in terms of away goals on 89 minutes to qualifying and a total win on 90 minutes. You couldn't write it. The euphoria was nothing like I'd ever imagined. Suddenly the 14 hour trip back home that awaited us Friday morning didn't seem so daunting. Words can't describe the elation in the tiers and a very vocal home support was stunned into silence.

Not for the first time, the French had bottled it.

A win in Europe breeds mental strength, belief and positivity. Physically it'll leave us tiring more, but sometimes a game can be won with enough belief flowing through the side. The longer we stay in the Europa League, the more time that goes by in which we genuinely will feel as though we can compete with any in front of us. We need to prove to ourselves we deserve a Champions League place. Beating good European sides will cement this. We've a new ray of light emerging from Spurs. The future only seems to be more promising and we're in good form before approaching a tough run of fixtures.

So no, I do not fall to the consensus that a good Europa League campaign will hinder what could be a good domestic season. Great sides are able to operate on all fronts. The players know the extra work required due to the extra games but I'd lay any assurances that they want it just as much as we do. So often has the question been asked whether I'd personally take 4th or 5th and the Europa League crown. At the end of the day, you can't lift a finishing position above your head. Football is about the glory, and I'd love us to return to London with the Europa League - more than anything.

Ben - Follow me on Twitter here

(Apologies for the poor image quality)