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Italian job!

Posted on 15 February 2011  - 12:00

Peter Crouch was the man once again to score the winner on another momentous night in the Club's history.

Italian job!

Peter Crouch was the man once again to score the winner on another momentous night in the Club’s history.

His goal 10 minutes from time capped a brave and gutsy performance that gives us a 1-0 lead to take back home from this First Leg of our Champions League Round of 16 tie with AC Milan.

Just as he did against Manchester City at Eastlands to put us into Europe’s elite competition in the first place last May, the big man popped up with the goods to finish off an Aaron Lennon-led counter attack after we found our backs to the wall in the second half.

But it was as good an away performance as you will see from any side in this famous competition, and one that sets us up nicely for what could be one of THE great nights at the Lane for the second leg on Wednesday, March 9.

Harry Redknapp made four changes to the side that won at Sunderland on Saturday after the return to fitness of Rafael van der Vaart.

He assumed his usual position just off of the lone front-man, a role given to Crouch, passed fit after a painkilling injection in his back, on this occasion.

It meant Saturday’s front pairing of Jermain Defoe and Roman Pavlyuchenko dropped to the bench, as did the winning goalscorer that day, Niko Kranjcar, who made way for Lennon.

Meanwhile, Wilson Palacios replaced the suspended Jermaine Jenas in the centre of midfield, alongside Sandro, who was making his first Champions League appearance.

It was a return to the scene of surely our most forgettable half hour of football this season, when we found ourselves 4-0 down to Inter in the group stages of this competition.

There was little comparison in the opening phase of this visit to the San Siro as we showed the confidence and guile to dominate the first half.

From the first whistle we were on the front foot, as Steven Pienaar, also making his first Champions League appearance for us, played a neat one-two with Van der Vaart before striking goalwards.

The shot was blocked by what appeared to be the arm of Alessandro Nesta, but no early penalty was awarded by referee Stephane Lannoy.

Nonetheless, we kicked on from there. Crouch and Van der Vaart both tested Christian Abbiati before the goalkeeper went down injured on 18 minutes and was replaced by Marco Amelia in goal for the home side.

He was forced into a first class save by Van der Vaart’s long range effort three minutes before the break – but this was just the closing chapter in a tale of first half Spurs dominance.

Captain Michael Dawson and William Gallas were solid in the face of renowned strike pair Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho; Palacios and Sandro marshalled the middle of the park; Pienaar and Lennon were always a threat down the flanks and the Van der Vaart/Crouch combination was working as you would expect it to.

It was only a touch of indecision and a lack of final ball that stopped us creating more of a threat.

The home side offered little at the other end, with Ibrahimovic testing Heurelho Gomes at the near post, who was also alert to claim Ignazio Abate’s dangerous cross two minutes before the break, while Robinho fired wide from a good position in stoppage time at the end of the first half.

The home crowd were given a much-needed lift at the interval when their darling son Alexandre Pato was introduced for the ineffective Clarence Seedorf to a deafening ovation.

But we started the second half in a similar vein to the first, with Van der Vaart sending a cheeky chip wide four minutes in.

However, it was to be a much tougher 45 minutes overall, and Gomes was forced into his first major save of the night just moments later – and it was one of his best.

The Brazilian flew to his right to claw away a Mario Yepes header destined for the top corner after Gennaro Gattuso’s cross.

After this, Milan had us pinned back for large amounts of the half, with Ibrahimovic sending a header wide from a good position on 53 minutes before the game got a little heated.

Mathieu Flamini’s challenge on Vedran Corluka 10 minutes into the half was robust to say the least, and it led to the Croatian right-back being stretchered off.

Various fracas ensued and amidst all the drama, on trotted Jonathan Woodgate as Corluka’s replacement for his first appearance in a Spurs shirt since November 2009.

What a game in which to make his return, but there was little time for him to get timing back in the face of the home side’s pressure.

But aside from another point-blank Gomes save from another Yepes header on the hour mark, it says a lot that little clear cut openings were created by the home side.

And then, with 10 minutes remaining, we broke.

It was the right man who did so. The lightning fast Lennon sped out of our half and into a vast space in theirs, running straight at the hapless and exposed Yepes.

One drop of the shoulder took him past the defender, and the winger was unselfish in squaring for the on-running Crouch to sweep home from six yards and take the plaudits.

What a moment for our thousands of travelling support high up in the Gods at this iconic venue as they erupted.

Milan came back at us, but it was clear they were spent from their earlier endeavours in the half.

Nonetheless, as four minutes of stoppage time were shown at the end of the game, the home side found some impetus and looked to have broken our hearts when an Ibrahimovic overhead volleyed nestled in the back of the net.

But the whistle that blew for the push on Dawson and disallowed the goal was nearly as sweet as the final whistle that followed.

This incredible Champions League journey continues to get more memorable by the minute – and who can wait for March 9!

Milan (4-3-1-2): Abbiati (Amelia, 18); Abate, Nesta, Yepes, Antonini; Gattuso, Thiago Silva, Flamini; Seedorf (Pato, 46); Robinho, Ibrahimovic
Subs not used: Papastahopoulos, Jankulovski, Merkel, Legrottaglie, Oddo.

Spurs (4-4-1-1): Gomes; Corluka (Woodgate, 58), Gallas, Dawson, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Palacios, Sandro, Pienaar (Kranjcar, 77); Van der Vaart (Modric, 62); Crouch
Subs not used: Cudicini, Bassong, Defoe, Pavlyuchenko.

Goals: Spurs - Crouch (80).

Attendance: 75,652.

Referee: Stephane Lannoy