Eastern Europe on a cold February evening is a tough place to go.
Tottenham Hotspur found that out on Thursday as they lost 1-0 away at FC Dnipro in the first leg of their Europa League last 32 tie.
Spurs started with several second-string players, who found it tough going on a churned up pitch in Ukraine. And it was the performances of several of those stand-ins that will give Tottenham’s fans a small cause for concern.
With 10 minutes to go the pivotal moment came as Dnipro’s Brazilian striker Nascimento raced clear after a lighting quick break from the home side, one of many, and the attacker was brought down by Spurs’ defender Jan Vertonghen and the referee pointed to the penalty spot. The man Tottenham and Liverpool chased in the January transfer window, Yevhen Konoplyanka, stepped up and smashed the penalty past U.S. ‘keeper Brad Friedel to seal a first leg win for the Ukrainian side.
It could’ve been even worse late on as Konoplyanka terrorized Spurs’ defense and they managed to hack the ball clear on several occasions in the final moments as Dnipro pushed for a second and the Premier League sides goal led a charmed life. But Spurs survived the onslaught and return to White Hart Lane with only a 1-0 deficit to overcome in the second leg.
That won’t be that easy to do on this showing, as Dnipro have only lost four times this season, twice to Fiorentina in the group stages of the Europa League and twice in the Ukrainian league.
Tottenham started with Friedel in goal, Kyle Naughton at full back, Etienne Capoue as center half, while Andros Townsend and Nacer Chadli supported the much-maligned Roberto Soldado up top. Spurs huffed and puffed, but looked disjointed in difficult conditions against a fired up Dnipro side. The industrial city is 280 miles south east of the troubled capital Kiev, and you could sense this game, which was in danger of being cancelled, took on a greater meaning for the local people after the recent troubled in the former Soviet nation.
But for Spurs, it was used as an opportunity to give squad players valuable minutes. However manager Tim Sherwood can’t be too happy with what he saw. Yes, chucking plenty of guys onto the pitch who haven’t played regularly together doesn’t usually work out that well, but they should’ve played better than they did. Tottenham are one of the favorites to win the Europa League, but if they thought they could draft in squad players to take them to the final in Turin, this result will be a rude awakening.
With the cash from selling Gareth Bale spent on strengthening the already deep squad last summer, Sherwood seems to have an multitude of players to choose from in every position. But are they strong and ready to compete in Europe and in the Premier League for a top four spot?
On this showing, I doubt it.