Madrid mountain too high for comeback kings Spurs

LONDON - Tottenham Hotspur's debut Champions League season has been a story of unlikely comebacks but even the staunchest believer will hold little hope they can recover from Tuesday's 4-0 thrashing by Real Madrid.

Way back in August Spurs, dipped their toe into the Champions League so tentatively that within 30 minutes of their qualifying round first-leg match at Young Boys of Berne they were 3-0 down.

However, setting their tone for the competition, they pulled two goals back and then won the second leg with a convincing 4-0 scoreline.

In the group stage things were even more dramatic as they trailed Inter Milan 4-0 at the San Siro only for Gareth Bale's spectacular hat-trick to make it 4-3 and give them the confidence to beat the holders 3-1 back in London.

At the Bernabeu on Tuesday the 15th-minute dismissal of Peter Crouch for two wild sliding tackles made Tottenham's task near-impossible.

But even if they were to play with 12 men at White Hart Lane next week another turnaround looks beyond the realms of possibility.

"You need a miracle playing here with 10, better teams than us would have struggled," said Spurs manager Harry Redknapp after the club's heaviest European defeat.

"We've got a mountain to climb but we'll give it a go.

"It's been a great experience and we still have a game to play at White Hart Lane. It won't be tough to lift them - what's tough is the injuries."

Spurs have 13 players unavailable, not including Aaron Lennon, whose last-minute withdrawal through illness on Tuesday did much to disrupt Redknapp's carefully-designed game plan.

"I've got to try to find 11 for Saturday against Stoke City," Redknapp said.

Spurs' season, though likely to live long in the folk memory in the pubs along the Seven Sisters Road, is in danger of sliding towards an anti-climatic end.

The Champions League adventure looks over and, thanks to their poor Premier League form in recent seasons, the next one will not be coming around for at least another year.

Since their famous 1-0 win over AC Milan in the San Siro on February 15, Spurs have lost to Blackpool and drawn with Wolverhampton Wanderers, West Ham United and Wigan Athletic - hardly the stuff of potential European champions.

They now trail fourth-placed Chelsea by five points with eight games remaining and need to pick up their domestic form to hold on to fifth and a place in the Europa League next season.

Bale, however, showing the same self-belief and enthusiasm as in his scintillating wing play this season, has not given up on either front yet.

"We are not going to sit back and take another beating from them in the second leg," he said after Tuesday's mauling.

"Hopefully we will win and hopefully that win will be enough.

"We have to pick ourselves up for the rest of the season. We can still finish fourth or higher maybe. We have to keep going. We still have the second leg and the league.

"We are a young team that is learning and I think we can definitely learn from this."