80,000 fans and most of them very disappointed.
It is difficult to report on the latest expedition of Spurs into Europe without straying into the realms of exaggeration and hype. Especially now that the MOTD hosts claim that anything from a goal kick to the referee blowing his nose is 'sensational'. AC Milan 7 times winners of the trophy and current leaders of Seria A 0: Tottenham Hotspur 1. What's not truly 'sensational' about that? And we've got a whole week before the mundane everyday Premiership world intervenes to savour it: gloat, relish, delight and drool over it: luxuriate, appreciate and enjoy it.
And we will don't worry. Not entirely on our own either, but joined by the lovers of good football, the admirers and aficionados of the beautiful game; the devotees and disciples of playing the game the right way the world over. Another item added to the list of Tottenham achievements which they said we 'wouldn't do' starting with getting into the top four and qualifying for the Champions League.
Yes, yes' it's only half time; it's only a one goal lead; we've still got it all to do. But that's all a fortnight away at White Hart Lane. Stadiums and transfer windows crumble to dust in the meantime. Billionaire backers? Who needs them? You could say that this game proves that we need a spanking new stadium or argue that it proves that we don't.It's great to concentrate once again on the football. Everything else is a potential distraction; but we certainly weren't distracted.
What a performance: what a night. We did it without Gareth Bale; with only half a Modric and amongst the mayhem that Flamini and Gattuso engineered without a single yellow card and without Joe Jordan being provoked into serious indiscretion. We outplayed them for the first half and out defended them in the second. They tried under the leadership of Gattuso to turn the game into just a scrap and we treated them with disdain. It takes more 'mental strength' not to take the bait than to swallow it and feel sick later.
Harry called everything right, something I am saying more and more lately: starting eleven; tactics and substitutions. Every player performed with passion and control; with energy and concentration. Crouch took a battering for the team and scored the crucial goal with 10 minutes to go. Sandro won the ball; Modric picked it up and sent Lennon away on one of his fliers; he skinned the full back and passed with precision inside to Crouch who slotted home. 10 seconds from end to end.
Gomes made two wonder reflex saves and we all suddenly remembered why we like him.. Sandro and Palacios prowled and dominated the midfield in a show of classy controlled aggression that we have seen hinted at before but which came of age at the San Siro. Rafael Van der Vaart schemed and buzzed especially for the first half hour, linked with Piennar and Ekotto to good effect and exhibited the positive approach promised by Harry.
We tried to find Crouch but not with the early ball from central and deep, but from midfield and wide. Lennon roasted Antonini every time and played cannily with Corluka who made up with guile what he lacks in pace. Even his stretchering off after a two footed. studs-up lunge by Flamini which resulted in only a yellow barely caused a ripple in the side. Gallas moved to full back and Woodgate joined Dawson for his first appearance in 18months. We held the ball and repulsed all boarders.
They played better as the game went on but Gattuso unsettled his team-mates rather than us.What effect the addition of Van Bommel into the fiery midfield mix with Gattuso will have I dread to think but with their disciplinary record they may not appear together very often. 'Veni vidi vici': we came we saw; we conquered and our cup of pride runneth over. I was particularly pleased for Dawson, captain on the night, after he missed the early rounds.
Everyone, including me, thought that Kranjcar had earned a start but I suspected that Harry would go with Piennar for, like Lennon, he applies himself well to defence and has the pace to threaten the sort of counter attack which eventually proved Milan's downfall. And Harry got it right bringing Kranjcar on when control was more important than goal threat. And now younger fans have their own, 'Where were you when Kennedy was shot?' moment to savour.
What a season we are having; what a marvelous five years we have had; from two 5th place finishes to the Carling Cup victory over Chelsea; to the defeat of Man.City that brought Champions' League football back to The Lane. And now the adventure at the San Siro in the knockout rounds and the promise of more to come.
We not only beat AC Milan we exposed them for the spoilers that they are. Our performance raised our eyes to the horizons of football whilst theirs quietly drowned the game and their reputation below the waves. We did it the right way; the Tottenham way. I'm glad too that we are doing it without £50 million imports, with the players that have got us where we are.
It confirmed that our squad has strength in depth; that we are not dependent on any individual player; that the size of our stadium is not the most important factor; that building a squad steadily and managing the team sensibly is one way to go and it seems to be working. Success thy name is stability: or vica versa.