Tottenham’s wing-backs fail to live up to the Antonio Conte standard in NS Mura tragicomedy
ifth in the Slovenian top-flight. One win 11 games. Without a single point ever in European competition. Not even in existence the last time Tottenham won a trophy.
Whichever way you dress it up, this was a giant-killing of truly monstrous proportions, the kind Europa Conference League was not really designed to throw up, but one that leaves Tottenham’s future in Europe’s third-tier club competition embarrassingly uncertain.
After finding Vitesse Arnhem and Rennes trickier-than-expected customers, ten-man Spurs hit a new low on their Thursday night travels, as Amadej Marosa’s deflected final kick of the game earned NS Mura a 2-1 win, the most famous in their history, and ended Antonio Conte’s side’s hopes of reaching the last-16 directly, a knockout round playoff now the best they can hope for on the other side of Christmas.
Conte’s first European away match in charge was cast as an opportunity for Tottenham to build on their first league victory under the new boss, against Leeds on Sunday, and a chance for a second-string treated as virtual outcasts at times by Nuno Espirito Santo to reintegrate and impress.
Nowhere was the sense of wasted opportunity more prevalent than at wing-back – ironically, the area of the pitch where Spurs are expected to flourish under Conte. The 52-year-old’s appointment was supposed to have handed a lifeline to Ryan Sessegnon and Matt Doherty, who through lack of form and fitness had become forgotten men under the previous regime.
Conte had talked up Sessegnon’s chances of belatedly kickstarting his Spurs career in a position which the 21-year-old he feels sure will be his best, while Doherty hoped to spark a renaissance returning to the role that brought about the best football of his career at Wolves.
But, where, two nights ago Chelsea’s wing-backs had performed a masterpiece on Europe’s biggest stage, Tottenham’s understudies chose the city of Maribor as the setting for a tragicomedy.
Sessegnon was the protagonist, his red card after little more than half-an-hour for two thoughtless challenges turning Spurs’ task in coming from a goal down to the Slovenians from an inconvenience into a major undertaking.
Sessegnon spoke ahead of this game of being inspired by the performances of Reece James and Ben Chilwell across London at Stamford Bridge, their early season numbers in terms of goals and assists representing a blueprint for a player who once found the next 15 times in a Championship season for Fulham.
But even in his 32 minutes on the pitch, Sessegnon’s attacking threat was restricted to one tame, deflected effort from a Harry Kane lay-off as a lopsided back-three, with the abysmal Davinson Sanchez playing as a right-footer, struggled to feed him high on the wing.
More often, Spurs’ attacks came down the opposite flank, where Doherty was playing a hapless cameo, full of hefty touches and woeful deliveries, before being put out of his misery as one of four players hauled off in a quadruple change soon after half-time.
None – including the typically unlucky Joe Rodon – can be hopeful of featuring against Burnley on Saturday.