Spurs break Scottish Hearts as English class prevails
Europa League: English clubs enjoy a good night, but there is humiliation for Rangers, Celtic and Hearts
The standing of Scottish football has been in freefall for a number of years but it might just have hit rock bottom on Thursday night as all three of their representatives experienced humiliation in the Europa League play-off matches.
The so-called Battle of Britain between Hearts and Tottenham ended up a massacre as the Premier League side slaughtered their Edinburgh hosts 5-0. With their opening league match postponed last weekend because of the riots this was Tottenham's first competitive match of the season but you wouldn't have guessed it. They were one up after five minutes thanks to Rafael van der Vaart and 3-0 to the good at half-time after strikes from Jermain Defoe and Jake Livermore.
Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon heaped more misery on Hearts in the second half as Spurs ensured they'll be in the first round proper of the Europa League next month. "The first half was fantastic," said Redknapp later. "We moved the ball around quickly and that's how I like to see us play."
Redknapp did try to offer some words of consolation to the opposition, though there was a touch of condescension in how they came out as he looked ahead to Monday's clash with Manchester United: "You have to be fair and realistic, we have obviously got better quality players who earn a lot more than their players," explained Redknapp. "We go to Old Trafford on Monday and we will see a different game."
Celtic, meanwhile, hosted Swiss minnows Sion at Parkhead but what was expected to be an easy victory for the Bhoys turned out to be a night of deep frustration as the game finished goalless. Manager Neil Lennon now faces the prospect of seeing his side exit European competition at the first hurdle as they did last season when they were dumped out of the Europa League by Utrecht.
Celtic dominated possession but against a disciplined Swiss side who had come to defend they lacked the imagination to break down their opponents. Celtic now travel to the foothills of the Alps next week knowing that only a vast improvement will avoid another embarrassing exit. "My expectation is that it is going to be difficult," said Lennon later. He also gave a blunt assessment of his side's performance in the first leg: "Some positions we took up were poor, our final ball was poor and some of our decision-making was poor."
As for Rangers, their foray into Europe once more met with disaster as they suffered a 2-1 defeat to Slovenian side NK Maribor. Having been bundled out of the Champions League earlier in the month by Malmo, the Scottish champions were looking to get back on track with a comfortable win against a side whose home ground holds just 12,000. The evening had started well for Rangers with a goal on 31 minutes from Juan Manuel Ortiz but NK Maribor came back with two of their own, the winner a stoppage-time back-heel from Etien Velikonja. "It's crazy," admitted Rangers boss Ally McCoist afterwards. "I would've been disappointed with 1-1. I'm actually a little bit shocked. I couldn't see us losing that game at all. It's a poor, poor result for us."
England's representatives fared better than their Scottish counterparts with a brace from Clint Dempsey easing Fulham to a 3-0 win at home to Ukrainian side Dnipro. Stoke returned from Switzerland with a 1-0 advantage after a goal on 19 minutes from Danny Pugh, and Championship side Birmingham can be well-satisfied with their first match in European football for 49 years. Last season's Carling Cup winners drew 0-0 away to Portuguese side Nacional.