Villas-Boas left frustrated by opening night stalemate

 

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The difficulties and frustrations of the Europa League were made clear last night. Andre Villas-Boas picked a strong Tottenham side but during 90 tense and tiring minutes they could not break through a competitive and disciplined Lazio side.

It ended with a 0-0 draw, just three days before Queen's Park Rangers come here. More upsetting than any of this, though, were the monkey chants directed by some of Lazio's travelling supporters towards Spurs' Jermain Defoe and Aaron Lennon.

Villas-Boas has not arrived at a club particularly enthralled by the Europa League but he owes much of his reputation to winning the competition with Porto in 2011. He admitted before this game that he would need to "create the habit" of valuing it as if it were the Champions League.

That might be quite ambitious, but Villas-Boas's selection was not one of a man who thought he had something better to do on a Thursday night. There were only three changes from the side which won 3-1 at Reading on Sunday and, with Hugo Lloris, Steven Caulker and Clint Dempsey all coming in, the side could not be said to have been particularly weakened.

Lazio harassed Spurs from the start, trying to push them back and pen them in. Miroslav Klose tried to disrupt the distribution of Lloris while Cristian Ledesma led the fight in midfield, impressing himself upon Sandro's ankles. Klose could not quite reach Senad Lulic's low cross from Lazio's best move of the first half.

Lennon, captain for the evening, was Spurs' most dangerous player, crossing for Gareth Bale to head tamely at Federico Marchetti. From similar positions Dempsey headed in Bale's cross, but was just offside.

With both teams effectively cancelling each other out, it felt as if only mistakes, magic or changes could bring a goal in the second half. One smart move from Spurs, though, nearly unpicked Lazio five minutes after the break. Defoe slid a ball through to Lennon in the box. The winger was tackled but still nearly bundled the ball into the box, only for Luis Cavanda to hook the ball away from the line.

The mood of the game was soured, though, by the racist taunts emanating from the south-west corner of the ground where 1,500 away fans were accommodated.

Spurs continued to press for the three points. As Bale started to find his range from set pieces, they had a second goal disallowed. A corner-kick with 20 minutes left was headed in by Caulker, but the referee penalised the youngster for pushing Stefano Mauri.

Spurs brought Gylfi Sigurdsson and Andros Townsend on for the last few minutes in pursuit of a winner. Townsend nearly surprised Marchetti with a disguised near-post shot, but Spurs ultimately lacked the guile to break through.

Substitutes: Tottenham Hotspur Sigurdsson (Dempsey, 76), Townsend (Lennon, 82), Mason (Dembélé, 90). Lazio Zarate (Onazi, 79), Ciani (Hernanes, 90), Ederson (Mauri, 90). Booked: Tottenham none. Lazio Biava, Dias, Gonzalez, Mauri. Man of the match Bale. Match rating 6/10. Possession: Tottenham 58% Lazio 42%. Attempts on target: Tottenham 7 Lazio 0. Referee O Hategan (Rom). Att 25,030.

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