After an even first half at the picturesque La Turbie stadium in the hills overlooking Monaco, we looked to have taken control of proceedings just after the break, but this encounter took two big turns and the second saw the home side secure a 2-1 victory.
Monaco went down to 10 men just four minutes after the restart when defender Dylan Ouedraogo received a second yellow card.
We took the lead on 52 minutes when Anton Walkes released Kazaiah Sterling one-on-one and everything looked rosy. But it wasn't to be. Monaco levelled when Walkes angled Moussa Sylla's cross into his own net on 62 minutes and dangerman Sylla struck again four minutes later, this time an unstoppable curler from 25 yards into the top corner.
Monaco held on defensively after that as we tried in vain to carve them open – substitute Reo Griffiths saw the best chance saved by Emmanuel Mifsud – and the 2-1 win boosted their hopes of reaching the next round.
On a slick playing surface, there was pace and intensity from the first whistle and both teams had early chances. Jalil Enjolras tested Alfie Whiteman – a late replacement for Brandon Austin, who took a knock in the warm-up – in the second minute, the goalkeeper down safely to collect a 20-yarder. Japhet Tanganga did well to get in the way of Sylla's effort but then Shayon Harrison was dragged down on the edge of the box – Ouedraogo booked – and the striker picked himself up to fire the free-kick in low, Emmanuel Mifsud doing well to turn the shot onto the post.
There were three more chances before the break. The best fell to Sylla just left of centre, 16 yards out, but he went for power, snatched at it and blasted wide. At the other end, Walkes' cross-field pass found TJ Eyoma and he picked out Sterling, who got under his shot from the edge of the box. Sterling then turned provider for substitute Samuel Shashoua – on for injured Tashan Oakley-Boothe – who drilled on target but Mifsud was able to parry away.
Above: Keanan Bennetts is challenged by Jalil Enjolras.
The game took a turn in our favour three minutes into the second half when Ouedraogo was sent off for a second bookable offence and it took just four minutes for us to capitalise. Walkes released Sterling who raced into the box, steadied himself and tucked home past the advancing Mifsud.
The lead only lasted 10 minutes though, and there was more than a shade of misfortune about it. For a start, Enjolras' pass was intended for Adrien Bongiovanni, he missed it but it ran through to Sylla, left side. Sylla fired his cross in to the near post and Walkes could only turn into his own net.
Buoyed by that goal, Monaco came again and quickly forged ahead. Sylla was found in space on the left and needed no further invitation to cut onto his right foot and ping a curler into the top corner.
The pattern of the final 20 minutes was Spurs possession and Monaco on the counter, but while we struggled to open up the home defence – Griffiths denied one-on-one by Mifsud – Monaco went close on a couple of breaks and saw the game out.
JOHN MCDERMOTT, HEAD OF PLAYER DEVELOPMENT, SAID
“It’s frustrating rather than disappointing. When we first played Monaco I was disappointed because I didn’t think we were competitive enough. Today we created opportunities, our play was good, our players generally were very good but we’re frustrated that we didn’t win the game. We’ve got to a stage of being highly competitive at this level but over the 90 minutes today I’d just say we were naïve. We got our noses in front and then got countered twice so that’s the frustrating part. It wasn’t a lack of effort or quality, it was just general naivety. What was probably more frustrating than the goals conceded was our inability to put the game to bed because we had so many chances and the will and morale of our opponents should have been broken before they got their equaliser. Those are the margins. We can certainly compete in competitions like this but now to go to the next level we need the players to make the difference and we didn’t really have that today.
“Brandon Austin, the goalkeeper, was due to start but got a knock in the face in the warm-up and five minutes before kick-off we had to make a late change, then 20 minutes into the game we had to make another change when Tashan Oakley-Boothe got a knee injury but that’s no excuse – we’ve got good players who can fill in and deal with these situations, although that added to the frustration of the evening.
“I was pleased again for Kazaiah Sterling to score, Dylan Duncan was terrific again and was probably the best player on the pitch but at the moment we need too many chances to score our goals and the higher up you go, the fewer opportunities you need to score. That’s what the training ground is about – honing your skills and becoming better at that.”
Monaco: Mifsud; N'Gakoutou-Yapende, Ouedraogo, Mbae, Silva (Mihoubi, 46); Enjolras, Muyumba (c), Diallo; Bongiovanni (Alioui 70); Cardona, Sylla. Substitutes (not used): Henin (GK), Mallet, Delpierre, Rotsen, Mbock.
Spurs: Whiteman; Eyoma, Tanganga, Walkes (c), Walker-Peters; Duncan, Marsh (Roles 84), Oakley-Boothe (Shashoua 20); Sterling (Griffiths 70), Harrison, Bennetts. Substitutes (not used): Freeman (GK), Dinzeyi, Tracey, Stylianides.
Goals: Monaco – Walkes (OG) 62, Sylla 66; Spurs – Sterling 52.
Yellow cards: Monaco – Ouedraogo 5, Cardona 32, Bongiovanni 60; Spurs – Marsh 21, Walkes 43.
Red card: Monaco – Ouedraogo (second yellow) 49.
Referee: Pavel Orel (Czech Republic).
The final round of matches sees us host CSKA Moscow on Wednesday, December 7, while Monaco travel to Germany to face Bayer Leverkusen. More immediately, we’re back in Under-18 Premier League action this Saturday (November 26) away to Southampton, kick-off 11.30am.