Spurs under 23’s 3-3 Benfica B: (match report)
After being postponed due to the pouring rain in Stevenage on Monday evening, Spurs under 23’s premier league international cup game with Benfica B was rearranged for Thursday morning at Hotspur Way. Thankfully I was one of very few that was granted permission to report on the game, (with it being behind closed doors) and I’m very grateful that I got to see it. A draw was of little use to both teams if they wanted to be one of two second placed sides to progress to the knockout stages. This resulted in a very attacking game which would ultimately finish 3-3 after a late equaliser from the Portuguese club, meaning that Burnett’s side will be reliant on the Porto v Bayern Munich game resulting in a draw on Friday night to secure that second spot . It was a brilliant team performance from Burnett’s side on a glorious morning in north London, his side matched the opposition for attacking quality, and defended tightly. In fact I was a little disappointed with the renowned Portuguese club, as I was expecting a far more attacking performance from them. Played at a very quiet Hotspur way bar members of staff including Pochettino, it had an air of prestige about it. Both sets of players walked out on to the pitch side by side and the Benfica players even had their names on the back of their shirts. It was a fairly quiet opening couple of minutes, both sides seemed happy to just pass the ball around at the back. Benfica had the first real chance of the game when Jose Gomes’ dangerous cross from out right was only just missed by Tavares in front of Austin’s goal. The same player tried a dipping effort from range moments later which failed to trouble the Spurs goalkeeper. Spurs fullback Anthony Georgiou was causing some early problems with his surging runs down the left, one such run resulted in him putting a deep cross into the box which was headed over by Tracey at the back post.
Both sides were defending well and hence there were few clear cut chances in front of goal, the Portuguese side looking very composed in their play, and they
were the more physical too. It had been a very close game up until Benfica took the lead on 21 minutes through Joao Sequeira. A good passing move resulted in Jose Gomes’ cross from the right flank being nodded home by Sequeira from close range, the Spurs goalkeeper Austin was absolutely livid with his defenders for not thwarting the goal. Benfica kept the ball for a fair time after taking the lead and they seemed in no rush to go for a second, instead passing casually around the central areas, defending very tightly in the process. Burnett’s team were living off scraps. Jack Roles had a penalty claim waved away after being the victim of a crunching challenge inside the penalty area. We were really lacking the creative spark of someone like Shashoua and Edwards in the final third. The prominent Shilow Tracey had his high cross headed on to the outside of Zlobin’s post by Amos, in a rare Spurs chance. Before a late attack resulted in the lilywhites getting an equaliser just over 5 minutes before the break. It all came out of nowhere, the determination and pressing of Tracey seeing him win the ball on the edge of the area. The winger played a clever one two with Harrison inside the area before drilling the ball into Zlobin’s bottom right hand side despite the best efforts of the Benfica keeper, 1-1. Joao Sequeira fired a volley harmlessly over soon after the restart as Spurs managed to see out the final few minutes of the half.
Just as the second half was about to begin and after Pochettino had gone in to do his press conference for the Newport game, we were joined by two keen spectators who had come to watch the second half. Davinson Sanchez and Paula Gazzaniga. A common trend in our under 23’s games this season which is conceding straight after kick off occurred again in this game, after Tavares regained Benfica’s lead only seconds after the restart. The lively centre forward had caught us by surprise with his eagerness, Tavares brought the ball forward before beating Austin with a thumping effort into the left side of the goal, 1-2. Shilow Tracey fired a teasing ball across the face of Zlobin’s goal shortly afterwards, whilst Christian Maghoma done well at the other end to make an important block to prevent a Benfica opening. The fast pace to the second half continued when our lads drew level for the second time on 50 minutes. It was another good response from Burnett’s side, coming once again through the hard work of Tracey down the right. The wide man picked up a short corner down the right before creating the space to whip a cross into the box. The ball was picked up by Roles on the edge of the area, the midfielder dealt well with the pressure from the Benfica defenders before firing a low half volley into the bottom left hand corner of Zlobin’s goal, 2-2. Anthony Georgiou who was electric down the left, advanced on a great surging run shortly afterwards. His cross was met by Harrison who fired wide of Zlobin’s goal.
This great spell of possession continued for Spurs and just five minutes after finding the equaliser, we took the lead through an unlikely source. It was like a game of pinball in the Benfica box! Roles took the ball down near the right corner flag before sending the ball into the danger zone. Sterling got on the end of Roles’ cross before hitting an effort at goal from close range, which forced a spectacular reflex save out of Zlobin who flapped it away. But the ball came back out to Spurs, this time to Anton Walkes who fired the ball emphatically into top right corner of Zlobin’s goal, 3-2. This had turned into a great game of football, Spurs had really upped their tempo and wanted to find their fourth of the game. And it should have came, Jack Roles’ corner was headed straight at the keeper by Tracey with the ball coming back out to Walkes at the far post, the defender somehow jabbed his effort wide of Zlobin’s far post, it should have been a goal. Spurs were the more aggressive team and Benfica couldn’t cope with the relentless high pressing from our lads. Burnett’s side were controlling the game, Amos and Skipp were dominating the middle of the park, whilst Georgiou’s pace and guile caused havoc down the left. Brandon Austin coped well with a dipping cross at the other end before Burnett made a defensive change when he brought off Roles for holding midfielder George Marsh. Benfica were struggling to break down a very strong defence, Tavares showed this when he got his goal bound effort all wrong. But despite needing a win to go through the Portuguese club weren’t giving up hope. A dangerous counter attack almost caught us out were it not for a brilliant interception by Georgiou, to stop a Benfica forward advancing through on goal.
Sadly all our hard work was undone in the 78th minute after Nuno Santos drew level for Benfica. It was a really frustrating goal to concede, George Marsh clumsily gave them a promising free kick down the right when he raised his hands to stop a cross. From this the away team played a clever little move to catch us out, captain Amaral subtly passing the ball across the edge of the area. The loose ball was met by Nuno Santos who drilled a low effort between the many bodies in the box and past Austin whose vision would have been impaired. It was a frantic end to the game as Spurs struggled to create despite all their huff and puff. The away side were now looking the more likely to find the winner, Amaral’s cross was met by Daniel Anjos inside the Spurs area. The substitutes dipping header was tipped over by Austin. Benfica had their keeper up for a late corner in stoppage time, and their ultra attacking play almost culminated in them finding a late winner. After Tavares late bicycle kick flew just wide of Austin’s near post, it would have been a spectacular winner. A frustrating result in the end for Burnett’s players who lay dejected on the pitch at the final whistle, even when they walked off down the path they seemed distraught. We now must wait and hope on the Porto game ending in a draw! COYS
Player reviews: -Brandon Austin: Made a couple of decent stops, his handling from set pieces was impressive.
– Anton Walkes: Did a good job defending down the right, and was incredibly productive going forward. Reminded me of his days as a centre forward. Walkes took his goal brilliantly and probably should have had a brace late on. Looked very assured in his play.
– Anthony Georgiou: My motm, see below.
– Oliver Skipp: An absolute engine in the centre of the park, caused so many problems for the Benfica players. Played noticeably deeper for this game and did his job to perfection, carried the ball so well.
– Christian Maghoma: Another fine performance from the commanding centre half. Maghoma put in a fine shift at the back, kept good positioning. And made some really important challenges and interceptions.
– TJ Eyoma: Solid, composed and efficient, very good in the air.
– Shilow Tracey: Terrific performance from Tracey down the right. He worked his socks off, pressed ferociously throughout. Making many lung bursting runs down the flank. Created and scored the opener with a fine finish and also did well to set up the second. I was very impressed.
– Luke Amos: Another player who had a great game, Amos formed a really effective midfield partnership with Oliver Skipp. Amos was aggressive, strong in the air and in the challenge. He really frustrated the Benfica midfield with his tenacity and guile in the central areas.
– Shayon Harrison: Made a good impact up top, setting up Tracey’s opener in the process. Quick feet and good pressing. He did however, make a few slightly misjudged choices in the final third when he received the ball, especially towards the latter part of the game.
– Jack Roles: Played in the number 10 role and once again showed how effective he can be in front of goal. Always in the right place at the right time in and around the area. His goal was really well taken, Roles also played a part in the third. That’s 2 in 2 for the Cypriot youth international!
– Kazaiah Sterling: Did a good job on the left flank, was strong on the ball and done well in tight areas.
My man of the match: Anthony Georgiou. This was a tough decision to make between the fullback and the brilliant Shilow Tracey. But in the end I’ve chosen to award to it to a player who I felt highly influenced the game from start to finish. Operating at left back on this occasion, the determined Georgiou was one of our main attacking outlets, he was electric down the left flank causing havoc for the Benfica defenders with his many powerful surging runs, close ball control and pin point crossing. His strength and sheer pace was something that created so many moves for Spurs from that left hand side. He also got back well and defended with aplomb. Thoroughly deserves to be on the coach to Newport for our FA Cup fourth round tie on Saturday evening.
U23’s 2017/18 statistics: Top scorers: Sterling-7
Spurs: Austin, Walkes, Georgiou, Skipp (Duncan 80), C Maghoma, Eyoma, Tracey (Pritchard 83), Amos (c), Harrison, Roles (Marsh 69), Sterling. Substitutes (not used): O’Reilly, Dinzeyi.
Benfica: Zlobin, Kalaica, Willock (Anjos 71), Amaral (c), Luis, Gomes (Soares 46), Sequeira, Mendes (Santos 59), Tavares, Lystcov, Cuevas. Substitutes (not used): Duarte, Dju, Araujo, Alvaro.
Goals: Spurs – Tracey 39, Roles 50, Walkes 55; Benfica – Sequeira 21, Tavares
46, Santos 78.
Referee: Alan Young.