Juande Ramos will return to White Hart Lane for the first time since the end of his painfully short Tottenham reign with a 1-0 lead for his Dnipro side to defend in their Europa League last-32 tie. Yevhen Konoplyanka’s penalty nine minutes from time in Dnipropetrovsk proved to be the only goal of a match in which both sides squandered notable chances.
Roberto Soldado missed by far the clearest of the night as he skied over an unguarded net to continue his disappointing debut season for Tottenham. Yet, it was Dnipro that created the lion share of the chances on a suspect pitch, with the goal-scorer showing just why Liverpool were so keen to bring him to Anfield in last month’s transfer window.
Ramos, who lasted just a year in charge of Tottenham despite delivering the club their last trophy, had cited his former club’s financial strength and quality of squad as reason why they were strong favorites for the tie. Instead, it was Konoplyanka who was the pick of the players on show and Ramos must now be confident of progress having crucially also avoided the concession of an away goal.
Tim Sherwood left first-team regulars Emmanuel Adebayor, Hugo Lloris, Kyle Walker, Aaron Lennon and Younes Kaboul at home citing minor niggles. And Spurs, despite dominating possession, looked vulnerable defensively throughout.
Konoplyanka was a significant reason for that, as he terrorized Kyle Naughton with regularity. Early on he easily swept by the full-back before drilling in a low cross that Matheus was unable to turn goal-ward at the near post. It was the first of several opportunities that the lively Brazilian forward would be unable to take advantage of.
Most of them owed to a high Tottenham line that, in combination with a lack of pressure on the ball, harked back to the days of former coach Andre Villas-Boas. Ukraine international midfielder Ruslan Rotan was involved in much of Dnipro’s good work and with two similar balls over the Tottenham defense set up two chances for Matheus in a matter of seconds. After failing to make contact with an attempted lob, Matheus then shot straight at Brad Friedel. Danny Rose was lucky to get away with a shove on Roman Zozulya, too, as the visitors’ defense was easily beaten again.
Rose was involved at the other end in Tottenham’s clearest sight of goal in the opening half. His good pull-back was wasted by Nacer Chadli, who shot high over the bar from 12 yards.
The second half was even more open than the first. As time went on the fact that the match remained goalless became increasingly hard to fathom. Never more so than after an astonishing miss by Soldado. Naughton and Paulinho combined well down the right and the Brazilian put a fine ball across the six-yard box that Dnipro goalkeeper Denys Boyko missed leaving Soldado with the simplest of tasks to put the ball into the empty net. Instead, admittedly not helped by a bobble, the Spaniard put his shot high into the stands.
Christian Eriksen put the ball into the net with his first touch after coming on, but was pulled back for offside. And it was at the other end where the chances were increasingly occurring. Friedel made good stops from Giuliano and Matheus, but Dnipro would eventually get what could prove to be a crucial goal. Jan Vertonghen twice clumsily tried to stick a leg in to get the ball away from Matheus as he surged toward the box and with the second he clipped the player just as he reached the very edge of the area. Konoplyanka stepped up and drilled the spot kick off the inside of the post.
The score-line could have been even worse for the visitors but for Zozulya’s header coming back off a post in the closing stages.