Michael Laudrup’s men fell to a 1-0 home defeat against Valencia on Thursday night after Gerhard Tremmel’s error allowed the Spaniards to take all three points. Capitalising on a poorly cleared ball, Dani Parejo did well to rustle the net and give the travelling support much to smile about on a cold, Welsh winter night. And although Parejo was the one who swept the ball past Swansea’s unfortunate custodian, it was clear that it was the German goalkeeper whom they really had to thank for gifting them the lead. The defeat puts their qualification hopes on hold until the outcome of their decisive match against St Gallen is known in less than two weeks. Even a draw against the Swiss outfit would secure their passage to the next round, but it will still have been difficult for the home support to harbour any delusions of grandeur having watched their side fall to defeat at home. After all, the Jacks already overcame Valencia 3-0 at the Mestalla several weeks ago, so Thursday evening’s loss is sure to come as a massive confidence leveller. And with a terribly tricky tie against an in-form Manchester City to come on Saturday in the league, Swansea might well be facing a crisis of self-belief at precisely the wrong time. Still, making it to the next round in Europe’s second most prestigious competition would allow them a clean slate from which to start from, so if they can manage that by hook or by crook, they won’t mind in the slightest. Testing times ahead for Laudrup’s troops – let’s see how they respond.
It’s been plain sailing for Tottenham Hotspur in this season’s Europa League, and it’s easy to see why. Their squad is brimming with talent and skill just waiting for a chance to shine, and although regular football in Europe’s premier club competition remains their long-term goal, they’re still taking its little brother seriously by churning out some consistent, efficient performances. And while the Londoners haven’t exactly blown the competition out of the water in every game, they will be happy at the manner in which they’ve performed to date. A 2-0 away win over Tromso on Thursday meant that their pragmatic, methodical approach continued as they booked their place for the arrival of this season’s batch of Champions League dropouts. Goals from Vlad Chiriches and Nacer Chadli in the second half meant the White Hart Lane supporters who made the arduous journey to Norway didn’t do so in vain. Gylfi Sigurdsson was instrumental in both goals, getting himself two assists. And although it wasn’t their best performance of the year, Andre Villa Boas will certainly have gained a lot of confidence seeing them bounce back to winning ways so soon after being on the receiving end of a 6-0 thrashing by Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City in the league; it certainly required some resilience now, they can rest easy knowing they are safe and can focus all their energy on keeping the red half of Manchester quiet when they welcome the reigning champions this Saturday. For now, Villa-Boas can steady the ship and aim to gurantee a bump-free ride through December and into the New Year.
It seems as if goalkeeping errors were the order of the day as Swansea’s Tremmel wasn’t the only guilty party on the night as Wigan’s Lee Nicholls also made a howler late in the opening 45 to allow Zulte Waregem back into the tie after the Latics had gained control early on through Leon Barnett. The former Norwich City man, who turns 31 on Saturday, helped himself to an early birthday present when his opportunistic effort flew into the back of the net after only six minutes of play. An inability to put away chances as well as sheer bad luck for last year’s FA Cup winners were to blame in the end as they were undone by a late goal, despite their blistering start. Now, they must defeat Maribor FC – a task they’ve already managed – and hope that Rubin Kazan can do them a favour by dispatching Zulte. All in all, however, it’s not looking too good for Owen Coyle’s men, but don’t expect them to give up on the fight with the prospect of some intriguing and money-making David and Goliath clashes to come if they do stay in contention for the next round. Amazingly, it’s still all to play for heading into the final group game, despite the fact that they were written off by many before a ball had even been kicked back in mid-September.
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