Andre Villas-Boas wants to take the Europa League seriously. Last night, for Tottenham Hotspur's game at Panathanaikos, he thought he had found the right balance, picking the first-choice attacking players but also Hugo Lloris, Michael Dawson and Tom Huddlestone down the spine of the team. When Dawson headed in Huddlestone's free-kick, it looked set to work perfectly. But when Spanish striker Toche made a late run in between Dawson, Lloris and Steven Caulker and equalised, two points were lost.
Tottenham may have to field stronger teams now to make this ground back up. They have two points from two games, and if Villas-Boas wants to reach the group stage as much as he says he does, he may have to turn to his star players, as they face two games against Maribor and a difficult trip to Lazio.
The new Spurs manager has said that he needs to teach his Spurs players to take this competition more seriously than his predecessor did. So this was less than half of a second string: Moussa Dembélé, Jermain Defoe, Aaron Lennon, Jan Vertonghen and Gareth Bale all started, five days after their crucial roles in the historic storming of Old Trafford.
This was not quite the same challenge. Panathinaikos have an impressive stadium, and some very loud fans, but there were not many of them and Spurs were instead free to impose themselves on the situation. They should have had a penalty after just two minutes, when Andre Pinto moved his arm to Caulker's header from a corner.
Vertonghen and Bale, the powerful left-side combination, then started to cause problems with their running and crossing. There was space for Bale and Lennon to run at goal and shoot, with not much resistance from the home defence. It was attack against defence, and little surprise when Tottenham went ahead, a goal owing to two players brought in last night by Villas-Boas. Huddlestone curled in a free-kick from the right wing and Dawson, wearing the captain's armband he thought would be his all year, rose above Loukas Vyntra at the near post to head in, to his obvious and understandable delight.
The problem, for Tottenham was that the second goal never came. They could not summon quite enough incision and purpose to kill the game, which was very much there for them if they wanted it. With 13 minutes left, right-back Giourkas Seitaridis slid in a perfect pass and Toche – too quick for Dawson – stabbed Panathinaikos level.
Man of the match Vertonghen.
Match rating 4/10.
Referee F Meyer (Ger).
Attendance 23,000.Reuse content