Tottenham Hotspur: Big Night for Spurs' Blacklisted Stars in Europa League
Roman Pavlyuchenko may have been the first-half hero in Tottenham's Europa League clash with Rubin Kazan at White Hart Lane, but it was a match that was highlighted by more than just one star who has fallen down the list of fan favorites in North London.
Pavlyuchenko's 33rd-minute free kick from just outside of the box was enough to give Spurs three points and allow them to take the lead in group A, but it was the goal's spectacular nature that turned heads. The shot was so perfectly placed in the top corner that I'm almost positive it nicked both the post and the crossbar on its way in.
Even if Spurs seek to sell the Russian during the January transfer window, as many have speculated, the skillful strike may have increased his market value a considerable amount all on its own.
Before the end of the first 45 minutes, a curling shot from the left side of the area nearly found its way past the keeper as well. But some impressive heroics from Rubin Kazan keeper Sergei Ryzhikov kept the scoreline low.
The evolution of Younes Kaboul took another fantastic stride forward in the match. The center-back who received the bulk of supporters' frustrations in the early matches of Tottenham's domestic campaign was a key factor in keeping the clean sheet at home, despite Spurs being outshot by Rubin Kazan and facing more than a few heart-stopping moments in their defensive area.
But Kaboul was as composed as I've seen him yet this season, aside from a marking mistake that nearly paid off for the visitors. For the majority of the match, it was Younes Kaboul (for a change) who was picking up the pieces from everybody else's mistakes.
A notable example came in the 83rd minute after Sebastien Bassong slipped to turn over possession deep in his own half. With seconds to react, Kaboul raced to attacking player winding up for the shot, and produced a perfectly-executed slide tackle that probably saved the game.
Out-of-favor goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes, in only his third start of 2011-12, came up big more than a few times, as well. Though, for a moment, it looked as though he may have been right on the edge of committing a classically frustrating "Gomes moment" (you know what I'm talking about), which could make him still a bit too nerve-racking of an option for Harry Redknapp to realistically consider giving him another go in more important matches in the future.
Still, in the meantime, Gomes only needs to continue performing at the level he did tonight to give Brad Friedel a run for his money.
Among the rest of the squad, Giovani dos Santos continued to display some of the best footwork and most creative play out of any of Tottenham's non-starters, but it may have been Thomas Carroll who provided Spurs with the most impressive individual performance. Carroll showed that he can always work himself out of a tight spot, and kept the play going with a bit of skillful trickery more than a few times.
The end result of the match was hardly one that demonstrates Spurs as being any variety of powerhouse presence in Europe, but it was nonetheless hugely important in their campaign to see European Football at White Hart Lane extend past Christmas.
And what an influence it's had on Tottenham's development and depth, as we watch these players evolve right before our eyes.
Some have speculated that Thursday night football will damage Tottenham's chances of competing for the top four in EPL. I say that it's only helping.
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