OK, so I'll admit, this match report is late. Very late! So late in fact that we already know we've picked up three more points with a win at Eastlands. Yep, its late!
Had I been going to Manchester at the weekend I'd probably have got my arse into gear and written the UEFA Cup report earlier, but as it stood, I just didn't have the time. Neither did I have the urgency. Standards are slipping.....
No matter, normal service will be resumed later this week with the visit of Liverpool and the game at Craven Cottage.
So, let's get down to it - if you can even be bothered to read on!
Having sunk several pints with an old university mate of mine in the Liverpool Street area, I jumped on the train and headed to White Hart Lane, where a couple more pints were sunk in a pub. That wasn't the end of the drinking for the night. I don't want it to seem that I've become an alcoholic, but there was a bit more to come later! No beer at the ground of course. Blasted UEFA regulations.
Team news was nothing startling. Dawson starting. Ah. Well, clearly with a game at City to come King couldn't be risked and Corluka was cup tied. Rather Dawson at centre half than a makeshift temporary fill-in as was so often the case under Ramos.
The teams emerge
Surprising was the small turnout of the Zagreb fans. Limited to the south east corner in the upper tier. Had expected more, but read on and you'll see they were certainly vocal. Actually, most of you who have bothered to even read this far and watched the game or were there will have known that already!
The first half was uninspiring. Read a few comments on the forum gushing with praise for how well we played. Well, let's bring a sense of reality to this. While much of our football was pretty enough and we maintained almost total dominance, there was a complete lack of cutting edge.
Simply, there wasn't the incisiveness to create a stack of chances, and lacking that, we also weren't particularly direct. Certainly not direct enough to try getting Bent into the game. All of that would change later.
It took us half an hour to score, but when we did, it was a very decent move. Modric ran with the ball in from the touchline on the left, and squared it. I can't recall which of our players totally missed the ball in the middle - perhaps it was an all-knowin, all-seeing dummy? (I doubt it!) - but it found its way to Bent who was totally unmarked and he smashed the ball into the top of the net with a helpful deflection seeing it on its way.
Within a matter of minutes it was two. Bent again profiting, slotting under the Zagreb keeper after being put through with a very well weighted ball indeed from Tom Huddlestone. My God, the lad can pass it five yards as well as fifty-five! The goal owed much to a very poor defensive clearance, but from there, it was a very well constructed goal indeed.
Even at two goals to the good, we were lacking something. Yes, Bent had taken his two chances very well. Yes, Huddlestone had proved he could pass the ball. Yet we hadn't been troubled at all at the back, and the number of chances created was somewhat disappointing.
Still, two up at half time, and given the performance put in by Zagreb in the first half there seemed little threat. There was always the danger they'd come out a bit more fired-up, but knowing not one jot about the visitors nor their manager it was difficult to tell whether they would pose any more a challenge in the second half.
What was for sure was that the travelling Zagreb support, small though it was, was intent on making an almighty noise. Never in all my years following Spurs, home and away, here and abroad, have I seen such..... well, how can I describe it?
Not content with singing almost non-stop throughout the first half, they also decided it was a good idea to ignite some flares. Not one, not two, probably not even three. I reckon there were at least four or five. Plumes of smoke temporarily obscured the view, and as expected, the stewards and police eventually waded in. No more flares. Plenty more singing.
As the second half got underway I did expect Zagreb to raise their game.
How wrong I was. They were awful. So much so, that I think we suddenly realised there were more goals in this for us, and having scored twice in the first half we began to play further up the pitch, and added some much needed cutting edge to our passing in the final third.
There could have been additions to the score earlier, but the third, when it did come, was an absolute peach.
At the weekend against Liverpool I'd complained that with the visitors packing their box with all eleven players, we had to try something different than just lumping the ball into the box. With four of our own players hovering on the edge of the box, why not loft the ball there for somebody to take on the volley or half-volley?
Zagreb, of course, were nothing like Liverpool, but no matter. A lovely floated ball from a corner that Bentley took, probably landed on Huddlestone's foot about five yards outside the box. Well, I say landed. He veritably smacked it! What a connection too. The ball flew low into the net past the keeper.
A classy, classy goal. OK, not up to the quality of that ManUre goal a few years back from Scholes taking it on the volley at Bradford, but some similarity was there.
I was gutted. I failed to capture the moment with my very amateur mobile phone cameraman impersonataion. Ah well.
With half an hour still to go, the only thing likely to happen was that we'd add to the scoreline.
The fourth gave Bent his hat-trick. As he was released from the centre of midfield, he beat the defender with the head bandage for pace, and scored from near enough the edge of the box with one of (what are becoming) his trademark finishes.
Celebrations following goal number four
With the game well tied-up, Harry made a couple of substitutions. First bringing on Campbell for the very imressive Modric. Well, very impressive in as much as he became more so as the game went on. Early on it looked like he was still playing for Zagreb so often did he give the ball away and fail to get a pass off early enough! No matter. He made a sterling contribution.
A few minutes later Bostock was thrown on and became the youngest player ever to represent Spurs when he replaced Bentley.
Bostock makes his appearance
We could've scored more. Yep. We sure could. It could have been five or six, but given the lack of cutting edge in the first half, four was a fair scoreline.
Bostock had one decent pot shot from range. Wide. He looked quick, but not nearly enough time on the pitch to make any sensible assessment.
That was pretty much that. The European campaign back on track. A thumping victory. Somewhat mirroring the situation a year ago where a shocking start in the Premier League, a win and draw in the first UEFA Cup round, followed by a defeat in the opening group game, led to a managerial change and a change in fortune.
The change, of course, has been even more marked this time.
There wasn't too much to disappoint from the Spurs performance on the night. To say so would be churlish after a four goal victory. Even Dawson had an acceptably OK performance!
One point of complete confusion for me, though, was the form of Alan Hutton. He had an absolute stinker. Now, I know he's only just coming back, but the lad is unrecognisable from the player that turned out for us last season. He appeared timid and unsure of himself. Two words you simply could not have used given the wholehearted, completely committed attitude he demonstrated last season.
Two games on the trot where he's not looked nearly as good as we've seen him being. Let's hope he recovers soon because given our issues at the back, while Corluka will fill in manfully, we need all the representation we can get across the back four.
The most disappointing thing was the lack of quality in the opposition. It is no exaggeration to say that Zagreb were one of the worst sides I've seen turn up at The Lane. I would say it verged on the very worst. Anybody remember Anorthosis Famagusta last year? Well, on par with them. They seemed not even to be on a par with Championship sides. I can't believe they play regularly like that.
Sad really given the incredible support their supporters clearly give them. Deserve more. They didn't stop singing for one minute throughout the whole match. Flares, synchronised bouncing, even removal of shirts en masse. Easily the most vocal, most committed supporters I've seen visit The Lane. Easily.
Mental Zagreb fans go topless
So, UEFA campaign somewhere nearer back on track and with games to come against Nijmegen (538 loyalty points..... noooooooo!), and Spartak Moscow to come, we really should be targeting one of the top two positions. Its in Udinese's hands of course. If they win all their games they'll top the group, but I'll settle for second. Heck, I'd settle for progress to the knockout stages after the start we had!
If nothing else, I want..... I need(!) more European trips!
Oh yeah, the drinking..... well, that continued with a couple of tins on the late train home.
My sore head probably didn't compare to this lad - hope he woke up in time for his station!