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By James Cunliffe at White Hart Lane
Thursday, December 6, 2012
UEFA Europa League Group J: Tottenham 3 Panathinaikos 1
Spurs celebrated their 100th game in Europe’s second tier competition with progression through to the knockout stages after a 3-1 win over Panathinaikos.
Tottenham had been the group stage draw specialists along with Holland’s FC Twente, eking out four of them from their five games prior to tonight’s clash.
They only needed a point against the Athens side to progress but the club’s record against Greek opposition had not been good with just one win in five prior to this match – that coming in the 1972 UEFA Cup. The four subsequent match-ups had seen them lose two and the other two end all square.
And with the previous defeat coming against Pana in last season’s Europa League group stage this result was a measure of revenge.
Though the scoreline looked comfortable the hosts were anything but midway through the second half after Toché cancelled out Emmanuel Adebayor’s first half opener and the nerves descended around N17.
But two quick-fire goals towards the end of the match from Clint Dempsey and Jermain Defoe made sure their European dreams moved into the New Year after finishing second in Group J behind Lazio.
The match saw Brad Friedel make his first start in a month, captaining a strong-looking Spurs team that also included recalled trio Kyle Walker, Adebayor and young midfielder Tom Carroll.
Panathinaikos manager Juan Roman Rocha left out Quincy Owusu-Abeyie after the former Arsenal forward suffered a hamstring injury.
With the Greek side needing to win to leapfrog the Lilywhites into the next stage it was a strange choice of tactics to play on the counter. Sandro did his level best to keep them from getting any joy and on the odd occasion they bypassed the midfielder Walker and Steven Caulker were faultless in cutting out what little danger there was.
With the ball, patience was the plan and Carroll, with his midfield partner doing the legwork, was given the freedom to keep the ball ticking over.
His target, more often than not, was the lively Dempsey who probed down the flanks early on. He would be instrumental in the opening goal but first Tottenham survived their only scare of the half when Toché’s connection to a drilled free-kick was too faint and the ball skimmed wide.
Seven minutes later and Spurs’ American attacker drifted into the middle of the park and was afforded so much space that it was relatively straightforward for him to unpick the Panathinaikos backline to set Adebayor free and, beating the offside trap, the striker stroked the ball home.
The goal came at a time just when a flatness had descended over the game, and it served to spark the visitors into some semblance of life.
Yet their only foray forward saw Friedel alert enough to easily palm away a through-ball from the patch of the onrushing Toché.
That set Spurs on a counter attack of their own and the two protagonists in their goal reversed roles but Dempsey couldn’t match Adebayor’s accuracy and he blasted over.
The closing stages of the half brought one last chance for the hosts as Aaron Lennon showed his markers a clean pair of heels to reach the byline and dink a cross to the goalscorer, but his header was blocked and Defoe slammed the rebound high into the stands.
Four minutes into the restart and the England forward came within a lick of paint from doubling the lead, manoeuvring half a yard of space and thundering against the inside of the upright and back across the face of goal.
Then in the space of a few seconds Panathinaikos’ Ibrahim Sissoko sliced Spurs open for the first time with a pass that Toché almost got on the end of. With the danger not fully dealt with, the ball went out wide and from a cross Zeca stooped low to arrow a header past Friedel.
As the Lilywhites rattled the Greeks brought on Lazaros Christodoulopoulos and the number 10 began working away in pockets that the home defence struggled to track.
Panathinaikos should have taken the lead on 69 minutes and it was borne of blind panic in the Tottenham ranks as a clearance hit the back of Jan Vertonghen to fall invitingly for Toché. Fortunately for the Londoners the striker slashed at the chance, six-yards out, and it screwed wide.
It proved to be his final act as he was replaced, but by then Spurs had found an answer to the growing pressure to put the Athens side behind once more.
From a Walker free-kick Dempsey rose to send a bullet header crashing against the bar but then back off the turf and in via the back of falling keeper Orestis Karnezis. That, like the visitors’ goalscorer, signalled the American’s exit with Gylfi Sigurdsson taking his place, but just as quickly as they had arrived, all of Tottenham’s tensions disappeared and they promptly made sure of their place in the last 32.
Lennon was the architect of the third goal, jinking through a disheartened Panathinaikos defence before disguising a reverse pass to Defoe. The diminutive hitman did what he does best from close range and found the net via a classy dink over a committed Karnezis and a Greek tragedy was avoided.
Tottenham: Friedel, Walker, Caulker, Vertonghen, Lennon (Livermore, 87), Naughton, Sandro, Carroll (Dembele, 74), Dempsey (Sigurdsson, 79), Adebayor, Defoe
Unused subs: Cudicini, Huddlestone, Townsend, Stewart,
Panathinaikos: Karnezis, Sissoko, Vitolo, Mavrias (Fornaroli, 83), Toché (Petropoulos, 77), Seitaridis, Zeca, Sow (Christodoulopoulos, 60), Vyntra, Spyropoulos, Triantafyllopoulos
Unused subs: Kapino, Marinos, Chouchoumis, Valazquez
Referee: Pawel Gil (Poland)