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MATCH REPORT

Posted on 24 January 2007  - 12:00

We head into the Carling Cup semi-final 2nd leg all square after Arsenal fought back from two goals down to leave the Lane with a draw.

We head into the Carling Cup semi-final 2nd leg all square after Arsenal fought back from two goals down to leave the Lane with a draw.Dimitar Berbatov and a Julio Baptista own goal saw us leading comfortably at the break, but the visitors produced a strong second half performance to get back into the tie and Baptista struck twice to leave the tie poised on the edge ahead of next week's encounter at the Emirates Stadium.

There were three changes to the team that began at Fulham on Saturday, Didier Zokora coming in for the injured Teemu Tainio, while Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Aaron Lennon replaced Lee Young-Pyo and Hossam Ghaly.

Kick-off was delayed by 15 minutes, which at least allowed the supporters to exercise vocal chords before the start and ensure the atmosphere was crackling when the time came for the teams to emerge from the tunnel. Just after eight o'clock, new signing Ricardo Rocha was introduced to the fans and received a typically warm welcome.

The game got off to a fast and furious start with Lennon leaving Armand Traore trailing in his wake before fizzing over a low-ish cross that Justin Hoyte did well to reach ahead of Berbatov. The Bulgarian then brilliantly linked with Defoe before shooting wide of Manuel Almunia's right hand upright.

There was a high alert on eight minutes when Cesc Fabregas embarked on a mazy run and went round Paul Robinson but, thankfully the ball then fell to Denilson, whose effort was blocked and cleared by Michael Dawson.
With 11 minutes on the clock White Hart Lane exploded with noise when the ball rattled the net at the Park Lane for the first goal of the tie. Pascal Chimbonda and Lennon combined down the right flank and the England man flighted over a teasing cross that Berbatov stole inbetween two markers to nod decisively past Almunia.

Berbatov's evening then took a turn for the worse when he was forced off with a groin injury sustained while scoring his goal, but not before it was nearly two after Lennon and then Steed Malbranque took a shy at Almunia's goal.

Seconds before the 20 minutes mark the advantage was doubled when, from a free-kick resulting from a foul on Malbranque out on the left, Huddlestone curled into the six yard box and the ball came off the instep of Julio Baptista and left Almunia stranded and launched the Lane into song once again.

Kolo Toure was later booked for bringing down a speeding Lennon in full flight, the No.25 looked intent on going all the way before being so crudely stopped in his tracks. The fixture then entered a bit of a feisty phase as half-time approached.

The second half began with similar purpose in approach and the Lennon spark was still being ignited down the right and, from one sortie, a third could well have arrived if Malbranque had been able to make a sweet connection with his centre.

Alexander Hleb replaced Abu Diaby in Arsenal's response to failing to making in-roads early in the second period and he was swiftly followed by Emmanuel Eboue. They were slowly coming into the game and Dawson was forced to clear off the line after Robinson didn't get hold of a Fabregas free-kick.

On 63 minutes the advantage was halved when an Eboue cross was not dealt with and Baptista put another one away in the same net as before. Being honest, you could see it coming and the team needed to regain composure and win the momentum back from the visitors.

Another Lennon dash and cross nearly caused suitable mayhem on 73 minutes, but the next word went to Arsenal when Fabregas sent Hoyte off and running. Robinson advanced but couldn't gather and the ball was squared to where Baptista was waiting to apply the final touch.

Defoe was then denied by Almunia in front of goal before making way for Mido with ten minutes remaining.

It looked like it was going to be a whole lot better, but it is 2-2 at half-time in the semi-final.