TOTTENHAM continued their march towards the knockout stages with victory in Greece, yet their shocking second-half display against Asteras Tripolis will be of major concern to the manager, Mauricio Pochettino.
Andros Townsendâ€™s first-half penalty and a Harry Kane header six minutes later proved to be the difference as Spurs secured back-to-back Group C wins.
Pochettino said: â€œAfter half-time they started well and created one chance very early. We had chances to score the third goal but in football itâ€™s difficult because Asteras start to play and to be confident. We played well but the second half was different .â€
It was nowhere near as straightforward as it should have been, though, with Asteras deserving much more than Jeronimo Barralesâ€™ late consolation goal from the penalty spot and a 2-1 home defeat.
Pochettino had rested YounÃ¨s Kaboul, Kyle Naughton and â€“ for the sixth successive European trip â€“ Emmanuel Adebayor, making nine changes against a side who were playing in the fourth tier of Greek football only 10 years ago.
Jan Vertonghen and Christian Eriksen were the only survivors from the team which started Sundayâ€™s 2-1 comeback win at Aston Villa â€“ an unconvincing victory they looked to build on in Tripoli.
Few could have predicted such a flaky Spurs display after a dominant, if uninspiring, opening period in which Townsend opened the scoring from the spot after being fouled by Khalifa SankarÃ©. And the England winger provided a fine cross shortly afterwards for Kane to show his aerial strength in scoring his eighth goal in as many games It made a scoreline similar to the 5-1 thumping in the reverse fixture two weeks ago look a distinct possibility.
However Asteras, playing what their manager, Staikos Vergetis, described as the biggest match in their history, dominated the second half from the outset, with Tasos Tsokanis coming close.
The home side attacked with renewed vigour and Facundo Parra twice wriggled free only to miss gilt-edged chances, too, and Pablo Mazza hit a post.
The central-defensive pairing of Vertonghen and Federico Fazio looked rattled, with the latter receiving the second red card of his short Spurs career in the 89th minute for bringing down Barrales. The forward picked himself up to score the resulting penalty but they could not find an equaliser, as Tottenham rode their luck.
Spurs started brightly but struggled to create clear-cut chances, with a hopeful, long-range effort from the captain Vertonghen and a tame Ã‰rik Lamela strike they best they could muster despite dominating possession.
Asteras had less of the ball but were still creating chances, with Eric Dier recovering well to deny Mazza before Giorgos Zisopoulos put wide from the resulting corner.
Mazza missed poorly as Asteras continued their hunt for a shock lead â€“ chances they were made to rue in the 36th minute.
Khalifa Sankareâ€™s challenge on Townsend was strong but the defender appeared to get the ball. The referee Javier Estrada felt it was reckless, though, handing out a booking and awarding a spot-kick which the England winger impressively powered into the top right-hand corner.
Six minutes later, having switched to the left flank, Townsend sent a fine cross to the back post where Kane showed impressive strength to head home.
Pochettino criticised his players for their lack of mental strength in defeat to Newcastle recently â€“ something he may well bemoan again after Tsokanis came close shortly after the restart.
Martin Rolle was also allowed a shot before Spurs temporarily settled, with Eriksen and Townsend having efforts from distance.
Fernando Usero had a penalty appeal rejected before Michel Vorm pulled off saves to deny Zisopoulos and the lively substitute Ziguy Badibanga as the clock wound down.
It had looked like that would be enough, only for Fazio to receive a straight red card for a late foul on Barrales. The substitute scored the resulting spot-kick, setting up a grandstand finish which did not arrive as Asteras lost a European home match for the first time. – The Guardian