Relax. We can still qualify
The JimmyG2 Column
PAOK acting on Danny Blanchflower's advice equalised almost before we took the pitch. Then like 'New York; New York' they liked it so much they did it again. 2-0 down in 12 minutes through slack defending and the future looked bleak. As Danny had once suggested, 'Get your retaliation in first'
But that is at least the 4th time we've been 2-0 down in a European tie in recent years and we've always managed to escape Houdini like to throw of the shackles and straight jacket and float free from the lead lined underwater tomb to live another day.
This however was one great escape too many and despite laying siege to the PAOK goal from the 38th minute when they conceded a penalty and had a man sent off we met a human brick wall and failed to breech it with either a sledgehammer or trowel.
Modric, who was two classes above everyone on the night and who may feel he's made for more important things, made penalty taking look simple and may have added yet another paragraph to his CV. He wriggled and accelerated from deep, sometimes beating 3or 4 opponents but there was little support for him in midfield.
This was not an inexperienced team, only Rose,Kane and Livermore could tick that box and Jake's not even that young anymore. But there were several players returning from injury whose bodies were not yet match fit and whose minds were not entirely focused on the game in hand. Corluka, Rose, Piennar and Gallas all struggled to adjust and had hardly had time to settle before we went behind.
Livermore picked up in the second half and he and Modric found some rapport but by then PAOK, I swear, had brought a man on rather than taking one off and deployed most of them on the goal-line. Isn't the ref supposed to count them at the beginning of each half? We had the ball in the net twice but both were correctly ruled out.
The sending off didn't actually help us because after that with a slender lead they concentrated on defending and rarely ventured out. I counted at least three occasions when shots were cleared off the line, not that we had many.
Livermore and Kane went close, Bale and Piennar missed badly when well placed and that was about it. For all our pressure with so many bodies in the box there were little clear goal scoring opportunities. Certainly little wriggle room for Defoe. It seemed like trying to play football in a forest.
At 2-1 down after 38 minutes against 10 men you would have bet your house on at least a draw. But the ranks of the homeless were swelled because they defended very well and we lacked the guile to break them down.
We had by the end the three fastest human projectiles on the planet on at the same time. But getting from one end to the other in record breaking time is of no use if the opposition haven't bothered to come out. All you do is get to the brick wall more quickly; it's still there with every brick intact.
Government statisticians are working out, as we speak, what we need to do to qualify. I think PAOK have to beat Rubin Kazan by a couple and we have to beat Shamrock by four or more, or something. My advice is, 'Don't hold your breath'. I'm afraid it ain't gonna happen.
It's been a useful outlet for the youngsters and for the the lame, disabled and sick to get recovery time but we have discovered that the Europa is no Mickey Mouse competition and that our fabled strength in depth is somewhat weaker and shallower than we had hoped.
Falque looked lively when he came on, but nobody else enhanced their reputations except Luka but unfortunately we didn't have anyone capable of playing with him. I would be quite happy for Piennar, Bassong and Corluka to be moved on subject to suitable replacements being found.
Of the youngsters, Kane is young and might still make the grade next season. Livermore is a bit pedestrian but willing, Rose still has potential but it's a pity that Fredericks, Townsend and Carroll were left out as they couldn't have done worse than their senior colleagues.
In fact the biggest disappointment was that these promising boys were not entrusted to finish the job they had started. Harry who apparently doesn’t rate the competition still played Modric and Lennon from the start in what he described as a 'must win' game.
I don't regard it as 'blessing in disguise' that we are out because it was a useful way of occupying a group of highly paid unemployed layabouts who can't get into Harry's 1st team. If Modric had got injured last night the cat would have had a mouthful of feathers.
As long as the after effects don't spill over into the Bolton game then there is no harm done. Finishing in the top three is still the priority.
Can't afford a video this week we bet the farm on Europa qualification.