A late goal from Mousa Dembele earned Tottenham a draw in Lyon to take them through to a Europa League last-16 meeting with Inter Milan next month. Lyon scored a goal after seventeen minutes to bring the tie level at 2 – 2 but gave them the advantage with their away goal from the first leg. The early goal determined the shape of the remainder of the match with home side satisfied to hold that advantage, defending with nine men back every time Tottenham gained possession.
Olympique Lyonnais 1 Tottenham Hotspur 1 (agg. 2 – 3)
Scorers: Gonalons Dembele
Team: Friedel; Walker, Gallas, Vertonghen, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon (Dempsey), Parker (Livermore), Dembele, Bale; Holtby (Sigurdsson); Adebayor Subs: (unused) Lloris, Dawson, Naughton, CaulkerAndre Villas-Boas made only one change from the team which won at White Hart Lane last week, introducing Lewis Holtby in place of Clint Dempsey. For Lyon, Grenier who scored twice at the weekend replaced the former Spurs player, Steed Malbranque.
The match opened with early Lyon pressure causing the Tottenham defence problems from a free-kick following a foul by Benoit Assou-Ekotto. The defence again looked uncertain at a corner. Spurs then had a period of possession with patient passing as Lyon sat back and waited for them to make a mistake. After six minutes, William Gallas headed over from a Gareth Bale free-kick following a foul on Kyle Walker.
Lyon were dangerous on the break and Walker was finding Lisandro a handful, especially his tendency to go down from the merest touch. Holtby was working hard and from a run forward, he fed Aaron Lennon who took the ball across the area but his cross from the left was easily cleared. Walker was adjudged to have fouled Lisandro on the right touchline and from the free-kick Maxime Gonalons headed in at the near post after 17 minutes.
Tottenham now needed to score to avoid a repeat of their 1967 result in Lyon but the home team were determined to make it difficult for them. Lyon were a threat on the break but failed to make the most of it by getting caught off-side and over-hitting the forward pass. Lyon were very disciplined with five across midfield and focused on holding their one goal lead while Spurs made the task easier for the home team with poor passing from midfield.
Neither side troubled the goalkeepers for most of the first half. After 33 minutes Scott Parker played a ball behind the Lyon defence towards Bale but the pass was just too long. Bale finally had an opportunity to run from his own half with four minutes to the interval and worried Lyon but they recovered to clear for a corner. Then in the final minute of the half both goalkeepers were called into action – first Brad Friedel saved following a cross and shot and then a low shot by Holtby was touched onto the post by the diving Vercoutre in the Lyon goal.
In the second half Lyon remained content to contain Spurs and after 49 minutes they nearly paid the price but Bale spurned Tottenham’s best opportunity for a goal. Following a Lyon attack, Spurs broke quickly in their best and most decisive move of the game. Parker found Emanuel Adebayor who lifted the ball over the defence to Bale with only the goalkeeper to beat but he hit the ball first time and knocked it past the back post.
Spurs played with a greater urgency in the second half but were finding little room against a tight Lyon defence. Lyon were showing little forward thrust but in two forward movements Friedel had to be quick to avert the danger. He saved a shot with his feet after some pressure from the home side and then following a break he came out quickly to clear at the edge of his area. The ball fell for Lyon but the referee turned away appeals for a penalty as the striker dived over the goalkeeper. That came with just under 30 minutes to play and was the last real threat from Lyon. In between those two attacks, the Lyon goalkeeper showed his concerns about Bale when he resorted to punching clear a corner taken by the Welshman.
Tottenham were encouraged and a foul on Bale in a central position, brought more anxiety to the home defence and the goalkeeper in particular. Bale lifted the free-kick over the wall but straight at Vercoutre who punched it away. Two minutes later, Adebayor looped a ball onto the top of the crossbar and Tottenham appealed for a penalty as Lennon appeared to be fouled.
Andre Villas-Boas introduced Clint Dempsey for Lennon, Gylfi Sigurdsson replaced Holtby and in the final minutes Jake Livermore came on for Parker but it was making little difference as Lyon defended resolutely. they were showing little desire to attack even from set-pieces, content to knock the ball forward and retreat into their defensive shell. Spurs were forced into trying a few speculative shots from distance but without troubling Vercoutre although he again punched down an effort from Bale. Lyon had all ten men back to defend as Spurs pushed forward in search of the important goal but it was looking like a fruitless task when on 90 minutes, Dembele went forward, got past his man and hit a perfect shot from the edge of the area, across goal and beyond the goalkeeper. Tottenham rejoiced, Lyon were in despair. Their game plan to contain and restrict had been carried out to perfection until that moment. Spurs saw out the three minutes of added time in a classic European moment.
HotspurHQ co-writer, Alan Hill, explained the Tottenham goal perfectly,
“As the Spurs winning goal developed, I felt all their defence including the goalie had a wary eye on Bale and like everybody else were thinking that Dembele was going to square it. The thought blasted through my mind in an instant, “No, go for it yourself now! and he did just as I was thinking. It reminded me of 1981 when everyone was screaming at Ricky Villa for pass but he didn’t, only it was much more instant.”
Tottenham deserved their goal for their effort on the night – they kept plugging away and were rewarded for their efforts. The lack of depth to the Spurs squad is clear to see, with injuries and players out on loan, so it’s going to be a tough final three months to the end of the season. Villas-Boas had few options to bring something new to the team during the game as they sought a goal and there’ll be little opportunity to freshen the team in the coming weeks with so many important games to be played.
It was a close call for Tottenham but a great result as they progress to meet Inter Milan in the next round with the first match at home on 7th March.