The Europa League qualifiers oozed English talent on Thursday night with wins from Stoke, Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur in the first-leg of the competition.
Despite failing to score, Birmingham proved sceptics wrong with a game in which they were unlucky not to have scored; with Striker Chris Wood hitting the post twice and the Blues’ summer signing defender Steven Caldwell feeding a header into the woodwork in the first-half. Portugese side, Nacional will visit St Andrews in the second-leg hoping to deny Birmingham further progression in Europe after the Blues’ first major European game in 49 years.
The lack of practice in the Premier League due to London riots did nothing to deter a superior Tottenham who were worlds apart from Scottish Premier League competitors, Hearts – a team who only last weekend experienced their first victory in the League’s fourth game. With last year’s glimpse of the Champions League, Spurs showed a side who just a few months ago, were beating the likes of AC Milan and Inter Milan with goals from Rafael Van Der Vaart –within the opening five minutes – Jermain Defoe, Jake Livermore and Aaron Lennon. Gareth Bale, who grew as a favourite at White Hart Lane after his crucial goals in the Champions League, also scored to give Spurs a four goal advantage at Tynecastle Stadium.
Stoke City are looking ahead to the second-leg after Danny Pugh’s low shot in the 19th minute remained the only goal of the game. FC Thun didn’t enjoy an easy game, with keeper David Da Costa sent off for taking down Jon Walters, but the Swiss side who were playing at home in the first-leg had enough shots, which should have ensured a goal with strong shots from Benjamin Luthi – yet that Stoke managed to block.
Having suffered a heart-breaking defeat in the Europa League final in Hamburg back in 2010, Fulham dominated at home against Ukrainian side Dnipro, scoring three goals – an opener from defender Aaron Hughes; which was his second ever goal for the Premier League team, and two from American favourite, Clint Dempsey.
Top-flight Scottish Premier League rivals, Celtic and Rangers struggled to make much of an impact on their opposing teams in the competition.
Georgios Samaras’ game was evidently that of a player who hadn’t yet played in the season, and up-front with Anthony Stokes, the Greek drove forward an inconsistent Celtic and was replaced by Paddy McCourt at 83 minutes. The game ended with no goals.
Meanwhile, a Rangers side who were already breathing a sigh of relief at a 1-1 draw in stoppage time allowed Velikonja to slot home the winner a mere 12 minutes after entering the game as a sub. Rangers continued to create chances which they failed to follow through as NK Maribor, Serbian Champions, equalised the Scots’ opener with a confident goal courtesy of Agim Ibraimi.
Fulham 3 – 0 Dnipro
FC Thun 0 – 1 Stoke City
Hearts 0 – 5 Tottenham
Nacional 0 – 0 Birmingham
Celtic 0 – 0 FC Fion
NK Maribor 2 – 1 Rangers