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Hoops Hart in right place

THE LAST time Tottenham Hotspur FC hosted an Irish club at White Hart Lane, the big time Charlies from London waltzed past the outclassed League of Ireland team, knocking in eight goals on the night.

That was a different Ireland in September 1983 -- TV coverage on RTé started at 5pm and only ran for six hours, Soviet diplomats were being expelled by the Irish government in a spying row and the glamour wedding of Twink was making the front pages.

Having won the first leg against Drogheda United in Ireland 6-0, Spurs could afford to take the Irish part-timers for granted in the second leg and won the tie 14-0 on aggregate.


There's still a sense that Spurs are taking neither this game tonight, nor the competition as a whole, all that seriously. Harry Redknapp's scouting on Rovers amounted to no more than sending his assistant, Joe Jordan, to see the Hoops in action just once.

At yesterday's press conference here in London, Spurs defender Andros Townsend admitted that the players knew nothing at all about the opposition as they were only having a DVD analysis session later that day.

The game here tonight seems to be a mere annoyance ahead of their big derby with Arsenal on Sunday.

But Rovers are taking the game very seriously. Realistically, this is one of the better chances for the Hoops to get some points in the group stage, as their away record in Europe is far better than the home one, while they're up against a weakened Spurs side which has minds very much on the Premier League next weekend

The 1,800-strong Rovers support in White Hart Lane tonight would love to see their side do what Irish clubs have only ever done once in 11 games over 54 years: avoid defeat away to an English side in Europe.

That's the case for Rovers as a club, but for the players, there are personal motivations. They know that in the Irish game, everything is referenced to the scene in England, everything judged by the standards of English football, and a good performance against an English Premier League team would mean more to the general public in Ireland than any other result in Europe.


For Enda Stevens, who will leave Rovers at the end of this season and move to Aston Villa on a three-year deal, the game is also a chance to judge if he really has what it takes to play at this level regularly.

"It's a test for me and an experience. I will know how far away I am, or how close I am, to the standard of the Premier League after this game tonight," Stevens told the Herald.

"It's the same challenge for us all, it's a European tie away to Tottenham so this is something that all the players are looking forward to, it's a chance for us all to show what we're about, but for me it will be a good indication of what's ahead of me.

"I want to compete and prove myself and, from January on, I will be competing against the likes of Tottenham and Liverpool and Chelsea on a regular basis once I go across to Villa so it will be good to see how I compare to those players, if I'm at their level or if I have a lot to do.

"It will be interesting to see how I get on over there. It's a good sign that Matt Doherty has played in the Premier League now, he got his debut with Wolves there last weekend.

"Myself and Matt were on the same FÁS course up in Cabra. I was delighted to see Matt get a run at Anfield in the league and that gives me hope that I can do it as well.

"So many lads from the league here have gone across and done well; Keith Fahey went from Pats and walked straight into the Birmingham first team and I'd like to do the same, but I'll have a better idea tonight."

Earlier in this European run, Rovers manager Michael O'Neill judged that Stevens really was a big-game player, that he delivered some of his best performances for the Hoops against top-drawer opposition like Juventus and FC Copenhagen.


But for Stevens, his introduction to Europe was at times sobering as he admits he had a poor day when his St Pats side were easily beaten 3-0 by Steaua Bucharest two years ago.

"Steaua tore me apart over there. That was a learning curve for me. It was my first real season in the league and I was only learning the game at that level," says Stevens,

"It was a pity as that Pats team had done so well in Europe that year, beating the Russian team was amazing, so to then lose so heavily to Steaua in Romania was a hard lesson.

"I remember Jeff Kenna consoling me after that game. He said the main thing was for me to learn from it and it certainly was an eye-opener for me."

But back to tonight and the clash with Spurs, where left back Stevens says the plan is to disrupt the hosts.

"We will try and frustrate Spurs tonight. We know we will be under pressure so we have to try and soak that up. If we can keep it at 0-0 for as long as possible they will get frustrated. Their fans will get on the Spurs' players backs because this is a game they are expected to win," he says.

"It could be just like Partizan. We got battered in the first half and conceded a goal but we didn't fall apart. We came out flying in the second half, scored a goal and Partizan got nervous. They hadn't planned on us scoring and their players started to panic, they didn't know what to think, maybe we can do that again."