Belfast Telegraph

James Lawton: Tottenham Hotspur must remember lessons learnt on thrilling Champions League journey

The miracle of White Hart Lane, even with Gareth Bale at times suggesting he had once more borrowed one of Superman's telephone box dressing rooms, was never really viable, not after the broken nerve of the Bernabeu – and certainly not in the wake of a particularly damning catastrophe for the chronically erratic Heurelho Gomes.

When Tottenham's goalkeeper fumbled the ball over his line in the opening shots of the second half, it was a forlorn echo of their follies in Madrid.

Still, there was something of a small blessing for a European campaign which had known so many moments of thrilling uplift on the way to that terrible denouement. Spurs from time to time did, after all, look like Spurs again.

They showed their most endearing quality, a belief that playing adventurous football, passing and running with steady optimism, is something entitled to carry them some considerable way towards the highest rewards.

Of course, they do not need telling now that gaining the ultimate heights of the European game demands something rather more – and not least the kind of certainty and discipline Jose Mourinho has grafted on to some exceptional ability in his Real side. Indeed, if the nascent reputation of Spurs has suffered in this tie it has been no more severely than that of the old iron mistress of European football, Serie A.

Spurs proved too strong, too good-hearted for reigning champions Internazionale and seven-time European Cup-winners Milan but against Spain's number two team they have encountered a whole range of challenges beyond their power, and not least psychologically.

For Harry Redknapp the imperative is to make sure that the value of the European adventure is not allowed to drain away. Spurs have dared to be great on their return to club football's greatest tournament and when the recriminations are done, when Real Madrid have thundered off down the high road of history to duel with Barcelona, Spurs have to take an honest look at themselves.

If they retain a clear memory of their best work last night they should not take too harsh or diminishing a view. Even when Luka Modric was denied the most serious of three first-half Tottenham penalty appeals, Spurs continued to suggest that if there would be no heavenly light above north London we would have more evidence of a team committed to some superior football values.

This was true even though one of the season's most inspiring players, Rafael van der Vaart, was untypically muted in the strutting presence of such as Cristiano Ronaldo, whose unexceptional shot at goal was mishandled by Gomes for maybe the most gratuitous of 40 goals in another season of extraordinary fertility from the Portuguese demi-god.

Modric seemed particularly anxious that his team should do a little more than shuffle off into a despondent night and much of his work had the usual craft and invention. Bale was, as we have come to expect, stupendous at times, one controlling of the ball on the touchline and surge of momentum providing an enduring image of a player capable of bursting through any obstacle. With Bale an empire could certainly be built, though whether the value-for-money Spurs board will have the will to resist massive overtures is obviously a matter of some doubt.

In the meantime, Spurs can certainly count up some outstanding assets out on the field. Another point of optimism last night was Tom Huddlestone's increasingly confident emergence from some injury-enforced hibernation. For a little while he was ambushed by the slickness of Real, not too surprisingly with someone like Xabi Alonso on hand to provide his usual display of urgency and authority, but as the action unfolded the big man showed increasing confidence and finesse.

The result was some Spurs football encouraging to those who came to see not the miracle but a show of some pride and resilience. This might have brought more tangible results but for the horrific blow at the heart of Gomes' confidence. However, Spurs will surely not believe that this was the truest test of their surviving mettle. Had the issue been less clearly resolved, it is reasonable to believe that Real would have played with a sharper edge than was required for their formal passage last night.

No, the true examination of Spurs after their adventure will come in the next few weeks when they strive to return to the theatre for which they have undoubtedly showed some fine aptitude. Against the likes of Manchester City, again, Chelsea and Arsenal, Tottenham have to show that they can indeed grow strong again at places which for a little while have inevitably been broken.

Spurs can tell themselves that they have proved something in Europe. They have shown with enough nerve and enough courage you can exceed all of your hopes. Now, they have to look at the finer points of their game and, because this can be such a cruel game, their enduring faith in the man who guards the line.

Belfast Telegraph


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