Tottenham Hotspur Still Searching for Gascoigne Magic After Draw with Lazio
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If it turns out, as alleged, that Lazio supporters did racially abuse Tottenham Hotspur players during the Europa League 0-0 draw between the two clubs this past Thursday, it will come as a sad accompaniment to the positive-supporter interaction that did transpire on the night.
The first competitive meeting between the two capital clubs was also an opportunity to celebrate one of their shared favourite players—the incomparable Paul Gascoigne.
The Biancocelesti's singing of his name was matched in turn by Tottenham fans, who's rendition of "There's only one Paul Gascoigne" was followed by mutual applause between the two sets of supporters, bonding over their love for the best English player of his generation.
Gazza's time at Lazio was not the overwhelming success all would have liked, but he still thrilled and delighted on enough occasions, and crucially scored a late equaliser in the Rome derby, that he is still fondly remembered.
Spurs witnessed what was probably the best consistent football of his career between 1988 and 1991, culminating in the spectacular run of performances in his final season that carried the club to its eighth FA Cup triumph.
BBC Sport reported that Gascoigne declined to attend Thursday's game because of "personal reasons," but Lazio hope he might be able to attend the return-fixture at the Stadio Olimpico in November; either way it was a deserved tribute to a player that gave so much joy to the supporters of both clubs.
On the balance of play, Tottenham's display in this first meeting just about warranted all three points.
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Clint Dempsey and Steven Caulker had goals wrongly disallowed, and while Lazio went close with Alvaro Gonzalez hitting the cross bar and Miroslav Klose threatening on occasion, Spurs' looked like the superior side.
The first half in particular saw Mousa Dembele imperious in midfield, driving his team forward and battling earnestly alongside the equally industrious Sandro as they gave the Italian side little room for manoeuvre in the middle of the the pitch.
Spurs's movement during the first half hour saw them carry on as they had left off against Reading—with Dempsey and Jermain Defoe getting in-between the lines to link up with their midfield and wide-men.
Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale had sporadic success in runs down their respective flanks, with the former especially causing problems with darting forays into the penalty area.
But despite these good passages of play and a general endeavour, there was a lack of the guile needed to unlock a stubborn, solidly-deployed Lazio defence.
On the whole, Vladimir Petkovic's men were well-drilled in their duties, and a draw against them is not to be sniffed at.
But for Andre Villas-Boas, and his team, there will be a measure of disappointment that they could not find a way through (saving for those disallowed goals).
It is the little bit of magic that has been lacking in Spurs' play so far this season, that for all their efforts in trying to play a certain way, they have been unable to find goals as consistently as they would have liked and probably deserved.
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No one in the current squad is quite as gifted as Gascoigne was, but there is talent there that can certainly aspire to those levels, if not quite match it.
Dembele certainly gave glimpses of a player who will delight the Spurs fans in similar ways, and the trick for him is finding the best possible way to still influence games without neglecting his defensive duties.
Bale is the player, perhaps, most capable of summoning Gazza-like genius, and indeed it has been seen before, most notably in those famous European nights against Inter Milan.
For now though he has yet to identify how he can best involve himself beyond infrequent bursts of brilliance, though in fairness that is not easy when being ganged up on by two, three or even more players, as he was against Lazio.
But for all these concerns, Villas-Boas (and Spurs fans too) should be pleased just to have players who are capable of creating and thrilling in equal measure.
In addition to those already mentioned, Lennon is still a menace to full-backs, while Andros Townsend delivered a bright, late-cameo that was full of the typical bravery and resilience in his play that makes him a useful alternative.
Even in defence, Jan Vertonghen is increasingly looking a superb signing, dominating at the back and with the ability to burst forward with elegantly composed runs that are not entirely dissimilar to those which Ledley King would sometimes embark on.
Reasons to be optimistic then, both in Europe and the home-front, for a Spurs team that oozes potential.
The difficulty is in turning that potential into results—into something solid. If they can, then this current crop of players might yet hear their names ringing around White Hart Lane* in 20 years time.
*Or whatever the new stadium to be built around the current ground will be called.
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