Lennon returns to Spurs but cannot prevent Champions League exit

A week after controversially missing Tottenham Hotspur’s Champions League quarter-final first leg defeat by Real Madrid, England international Aaron Lennon returned to the Spurs’ starting XI last night as Harry Redknapp’s side toiled but failed to overturn the enormous deficit from the first game.

Lennon was replaced on the hour mark by Jermain Defoe, a result of the lingering illness that prevented Lennon featuring in the Bernabeu last week and against Stoke City on Saturday. Lively throughout, his contribution to Tottenham’s failed effort included a starring role in arguably Spurs’ best move of either leg with the Spanish giants, the 27th minute exchange also involving Tom Huddlestone and Rafael van der Vaart that eventually found the No 7, who cut back only for Roman Pavlyuchenko to shoot over the bar. It was a telling involvement from Lennon, and the perfect illustration of why he was so badly missed in Spain – no other Spurs player bar Gareth Bale on the opposite flank can devastate an opposing defence in such a lightning manner, something seen in Milan as well when Lennon’s raw pace disrupted the Italian backline for Crouch to score a crucial away goal. When Lennon no-showed in Spain, and Crouch was sent off early in the first-half, Spurs were robbed of the two players directly responsible for taking them past the Serie A leaders.

Arriving at White Hart Lane in 2005, a £1m signing from Leeds United, Lennon quickly blossomed into a Premier League-calibre winger, being nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year award in his first season with the capital club. International honours followed but unlike his domestic success, where Lennon nailed down a place on Spurs’ right wing relatively quickly, playing 29 games in his first season, a regular role for England has been harder to come by. Lennon made his England bow in 2006 as a substitute against Jamaica, but in the nearly five years since then has only featured 19 times in the Three Lions – England have played 59 games in that time. David Beckham, Shaun Wright-Phillips, James Milner, Theo Walcott, Ashley Young and Stewart Downing have all featured on England’s right in that time, and the latter Aston Villa pair are the players in possession of wide roles now under Fabio Capello, and Lennon’s chances of regaining his national team place are not helped by what has been, statistically at least, one of his poorer seasons in a Tottenham shirt.

The 23-year-old is on course for his lowest assist total since his second season as a Spurs player, and his lowest goal tally since the same campaign. The numbers suggest Lennon peaked in 2006/07, with five goals and 13 assists, but this season has only nine assists and six goals across all competitions, perhaps a decent return but less than his past high standards and less than last year, when he managed 12 assists from only 24 games. With only the Premier League to focus on now, Lennon has time to up those numbers and put Spurs back in Europe next year.

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