Toumba Stadium, Thessaloniki
Harry Redknapp risked the wrath of the Spurs fans with his team selection against PAOK in their first Europa League Group A match. But after a hard-fought 0-0 draw in 30 degree heat with an experienced yet promising reserve team, Tottenham will go back to north-London content with their night’s work, even if at times they risked defeat.
For this trip to the hostile Toumba stadium in Thessaloniki, Greece, Tottenham went with a mixture of youth and experience – Harry Kane partnering Roman Pavlychenko up-front, a debut for Yago Falque, on loan from Juventus, and a first start of the season for Giovani dos Santos.
PAOK, whose president is former Leicester City midfielder Theo Zagorakis, started with their two star forwards Stefanos Athanasladis and Dimitris Salpingidis, plus Portuguese playmaker Vieirinha in midfield.
After early yet manageable possession from PAOK, the first major chance of the game fell to Spurs, who would always pose a danger on the counter-attack. Jake Livermore received the ball from Falque near the edge of the area: he ran at the last defender, cut back, then made the ‘keeper commit himself before squaring the ball to Falque whose low shot was cleared off the line.
Spurs were denied what appeared to be a strong penalty claim after 27 minutes – Harry Kane getting the better of Contreras who brought him down with a rash challenge. Yet to Tottenham’s disbelief, referee Milrad Mazic deemed it a dive from the youngster, and promptly issued him the yellow card.
Barely three minutes had passed before PAOK had a penalty appeal of their own. Carlo Cudicini brought down Athanasiadis on his way to goal, and 28,000 impassioned fans erupted inside the Toumba stadium. This time Mazic pointed to the spot. Left-back Lino converted one penalty, but due to the slightest of encroachment, was ordered to retake it, this time dragging it past Cudicini’s left-hand post.
Tottenham continued to create the better quality football in what was a reasonably open game. Falque, dos Santos and Kyle Walker made progress down the right-side of the field with quick interposing, the Mexican especially impressive across the field. On the left hand-side, Andros Townsend covered the whole wing thanks to his extra pace, allowing Tom Carroll to cut infield and help Jake Livermore and dos Santos. A free-kick, earned and taken by the Pavyluchenko went just over, landing on the top of the net.
PAOK began to create more genuine opportunities after the break; the hard-working Salpingidis was put through on the right-wing and cut the ball across the six yard box, however none of his teammates were there to meet it. Their best opportunities came from substitute Vladimir Ivic, who upon receiving a cross from the right, forced a smart double-save from Cudicini, first from a volley, then from a follow-up. Ilic then jumped high above Sebastien Bassong in the 92nd minute to head against the bar, Spurs coming very close to losing at the last.
Despite an unsteady last few minutes, Tottenham held on, and a 0-0 draw will be seen as a positive result for Harry Redknapp who will find justification in resting 10 players from the team that faced Wolves at the weekend, from this tough trip to Greece in a hostile ground.
PAOK (4-4-2): Kresic, Malezas, Contreras, Lino, Etto; Pablo Garcia, Fotakis (Ivic 61), Arias, Vieirinha; Athanasiadis, Salpingidis.
Subs not used: Chalkias, Balafas, Robert, Papazoglou, Sznaucner, Tsoukalas.
Tottenham (4-4-2): Cudicini; Walker, Bassong, Corluka, Townsend; Falque (Fredericks 82), Carroll, Livermore, dos Santos (Parrett 92); Kane, Pavlyuchenko
Subs not used: Gomes, Nicholson, Pritchard, Stewart, Barthram.
Did you know… For a period of eight months in 2007, former Spurs midfielder Ilie Dumitrescu was manager of PAOK.