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By Ben Pearce, Tottenham correspondent
Thursday, October 4, 2012
UEFA Europa League: Panathinaikos 1 Tottenham 1
Tottenham were punished for a languid, lacklustre display in Greece this evening as they threw away two important points in the Europa League.
Having previously been held to a goalless draw by Lazio at White Hart Lane, Spurs needed to take full advantage of Panathinaikos’ poor form and dressing-room unrest by banking all three points in Athens.
They looked set to do so as Michael Dawson’s 35th-minute header gave them a 1-0 lead at the Olympic Stadium.
However, Spurs never capitalised on their lead and instead took their foot off the gas completely, strolling through the second half and paying the penalty by conceding 10 minutes from time.
That was a massive waste, because Andre Villas-Boas had selected a strong side, making just three changes from his starting line-up against Manchester United at the weekend.
Dawson and Tom Huddlestone replaced William Gallas and Sandro, while Hugo Lloris made his second appearance for Spurs – both of them coming in Europe.
Panathinaikos had failed to win any of their previous six games, a run which included a 3-0 defeat against Maribor in their opening Europa League fixture.
By contrast, Spurs were on the crest of a wave following their triumph at Old Trafford, and they were quickly on top, winning three corners in the opening moments and seeing a strong penalty appeal for handball against Andre Pinto turned down.
However, the early tempo then dropped and the match became a turgid affair with little goalmouth action at either end.
Spurs seemed content to allow Panathinaikos to have the ball, declining to press and harry their hosts with their usual energy, while the Greeks were too toothless to capitalise and create anything.
They threatened briefly as Giourkas Seitaridis got free down the right flank but he was unable to find Toche, who had eluded Spurs’ centre-backs and was waiting for a cross in the centre, as Lloris cut out the delivery.
At the other end, Clint Dempsey sent a free-kick just wide and Aaron Lennon had a tame 25-yard effort which was comfortably saved.
It was just a question of whether Tottenham would be able to conjure the necessary moment of quality to break the deadlock – and they eventually got it from a set piece 10 minutes before the interval as Dawson met Huddlestone’s free-kick with a flicked header into the net.
Spurs pressed for a second goal before the break and Huddlestone tested Orestis Karnezis with a 25-yard drive – but the Lilywhites also endured a little scare as Lloris dropped a simple catch before recovering to claim the loose ball.
Panathinaikos were brighter after the interval and, although Tottenham had a good chance to double their lead soon after the restart as Defoe raced into the box and fired over the bar, Kyle Walker had to be at his best to deny Ibrahim Sissoko a similar opportunity at the other end.
The match continued to drag along without major incident, and Villas-Boas swapped Dempsey and Lennon for Gylfi Sigurdsson and Andros Townsend in an attempt to add impetus to his side’s lazy second-half display.
However, it was Panathinaikos who created the next chance of note – and they took full advantage to equalise as Toche ran in behind the rearguard and prodded his finish past Lloris.
It could have become worse for Spurs, who found themselves on the back foot in the closing stages, having to defend a couple of set pieces and block a volleyed attempt at goal.
Bale enjoyed a late foray down the left flank but his low cross eluded all of his team-mates, leaving Tottenham redfaced and crestfallen at the final whistle with two points from their opening two Europa League games.
Tottenham: Lloris, Walker, Dawson, Caulker, Vertonghen, Huddlestone (Sandro 80), Dembele, Lennon (Townsend 76), Dempsey (Sigurdsson 66), Bale, Defoe
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