Tim Sherwood opted to blame the surface.
“The pitch was a disgrace,” the Tottenham manager told reporters following his side’s 1-0 loss to Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, as per Sky Sports.
“It is no excuse as both teams had to play on it, but it is possibly the worst pitch I have experienced in a long time.”
Tottenham boss Tim Sherwood calls FC Dnipro's playing surface a "disgrace" after his side's 1-0 Europa League defeat.— Football Latest (@24footballnws) February 20, 2014
He’s not wrong, but if it sounds like an excuse, is spelled like an excuse and is used to get one of his struggling strikers off the hook, it’s probably an excuse.
“It must have played some part in [Roberto Soldado] missing that one,” Sherwood added.
The miss he describes took place early in the second half of Tottenham’s Europa League round of 32 first leg at Dnipro Stadium and saw Soldado miss a wide-open net from a matter of yards.
Teammate Paulinho had done ever so well to feed the ball across the face of goal to the Spaniard, but despite the service—and Spurs have lacked it at times this season—Soldado’s effort, if one can call it that, was a true eye roller.
When he was replaced in favour of Harry Kane with five minutes remaining, the 28-year-old had enjoyed 40 touches of the ball (not bad for a centre-forward), taken three shots and walked to the substitutes' bench having accomplished absolutely nothing.
Not that his poor display should have come as a surprise.
After all, Soldado hasn’t found the back of the net since late December, and three times since that goal in a 3-0 win against Stoke he remained on the bench as an unused substitute. On three other occasions, he was withdrawn before the final quarter of an hour, having put in the sort of performance he reprised in Ukraine on Thursday.
Of course, Spurs’ lack of finish in the final third isn’t all down to him.
Since replacing Andre Villas-Boas as Tottenham manager two days before Christmas, Sherwood has made frequent use of Emmanuel Adebayor, who was frozen out of the squad under the Portuguese.
The Togo international has since scored six goals in eight matches—nearly half the team’s total over that period.
But despite Adebayor’s good form these last couple months, it doesn’t require a diligent inspection of his past to know that he has run as hot and cold as any striker since a 30-goal season for Arsenal in 2007-08 that, in retrospect, was more an aberration than the rule.
No club with aspirations of Champions League football, never mind the title, would choose to enter a campaign with Adebayor as its No. 1 centre-forward. But as March approaches, Spurs’ ambitions rest on his shoulders, and those of Soldado and 20-year-old Harry Kane.
And that’s scary.
In retrospect, the ease with which Sherwood and chairman Daniel Levy let Jermain Defoe depart appears foolish, especially as they hadn't bolstered the position during the January transfer window.
Everyone from Manchester United’s Javier Hernandez to Juventus frontman Mirko Vucinic and Fiorentina marksman Giuseppe Rossi had been linked to Spurs before the start of the month, via the Daily Mail's Laura Williamson, but instead of making a serious push for any one of them, even on a loan basis, Levy did nothing.
Much like Soldado along the Dnieper.
And a continued exercise in retrospect would indicate the £26 million spent on the former Valencia forward could go down as one of the worst transactions of Levy’s tenure at White Hart Lane.
But the dearth of finishing is something that will surely be addressed once again during the summer, especially with Adebayor out of contract in 2015.
He almost certainly won’t be re-signed—nor should he be—and no shortage of clubs will inflate the prices of their strikers when Spurs inevitably come calling in July and August.
Still, call they must.
A competitive squad has been assembled at Tottenham in recent years, and their ability to place the final pieces in the puzzle (left-back is another) will define their modern era.
That, and they must ensure their managers don’t have to resort to excuses after an embarrassing miss the whole world groaned in seeing.