Proud coach hails players and fans and claims his side should have grabbed win at White Hart Lane
“I think we should have scored – we created some chances,” he said. “And we defended well. I’m happy with that.”
Sergio had adopted a high-risk strategy by selecting a relatively untried team, but his approach was vindicated. “It was a risk if you try to do something different,” he said. “We tried to do our job for Hearts and I thought we did it today. We were a little bit better in the second half of the first leg, we improved against Kilmarnock [on Sunday, when they drew 0-0 at Rugby Park], and we did a good job today. Maybe we picked the strongest team in the draw [ie Spurs]. We should be proud of ourselves.
“I have to say thanks to our great supporters who came here and did very well. They won their game – we didn’t win ours, but they did.”
Asked if he had been surprised by his players last night, he replied: “No. They surprised me in the first half of the first leg. I believe in my players.”
He also insisted that Scottish football was not in crisis, despite last night’s elimination of Rangers and Celtic as well as his own team from European football. “No. There are great players in Scotland, great teams, stronger than ours. But that’s football. I don’t think Maribor and Sion have better squads than Celtic or Rangers.
“All the time in football things like that happen. I don’t think there’s a big problem in Scottish football – two weeks ago the national team beat Denmark 2-1.”
Goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald, who saved a first-half penalty from Harry Kane, said when the teenager went down in the box he feared he would be sent off as well as having a spot-kick awarded against him. “Because I was last man I was worried he might send me off, but I think the fact the boy played for it helped me.
“It was a penalty, but thankfully he didn’t give me a red card. I just went the right way and i think it was the first penalty I have ever saved in a competitive game. The last time I did that was with the under-19s, so it’s been a long time coming, but what a great place to do it. It’s great to have a clean sheet at White Hart Lane on my CV.”
Spurs manager Harry Redknapp praised his team’s opponents but admitted he had made things difficult for his own players by changing their line-up so much. “I thought Hearts did well,” he said. “But it’s difficult when you mess around with your team as we did. You only have to look at Carling Cup results this week to see what happens, Norwich losing four at home and the like. It’s difficult when you throw three and four kids in to play with your team to get cohesion, pattern of play or balance to your team. Our team tonight had no real pace without [Gareth] Bale or [Aaron] Lennon.”
Redknapp, who was greeted with chants of “Harry’s a Jambo” after waving to the away support, backed up Sergio’s words of commendation for the 2,500-odd visiting fans. “They were fantastic and they were great in the first leg too,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had the other team’s fans singing my name before so that was nice.”
Where Redknapp differed from Sergio was in his analysis of Scottish football, “I was surprised as I thought Rangers would go through – I thought they would turn the 1-0 deficit around – and obviously Celtic out as well. It’s a big blow, a poor night for Scottish football. To see these teams going out like that is unbelievable really.”