Harry Redknapp has made it clear that league points and the Carling Cup are his priorities for the season. But going out of Europe before Christmas was never on the agenda and it needed a stirring second-half comeback last night to maintain Tottenham's interest in the Uefa Cup.
With Nijmegen winning 2-0 in the other group game, a similar margin of victory for Spartak Moscow would have knocked Spurs out and that was the likely scenario after a nightmare first half in which they were technically embarrassed by their Russian opponents. How ironic an exit would have been for the last time Spartak coach Michael Laudrup was at White Hart Lane, he was in was charge of the Getafe side that infamously upset the odds and led to Martin Jol unceremoniously getting the sack.
Although their domestic season ended over a month ago, Laudrup's neat-passing team warmed to the task of exploiting Tottenham's 4-5-1 system which has worked so well for Redknapp but was not nearly as effective with no fewer than eight players out injured or cup-tied.
The warning bells had already been sounded when Spurs were stunned on 22 minutes courtesy of a dreadful error by Brazilian full back Gilberto who, in only his second game of the season, inexplicably stopped instead of clearing his lines and allowed Artem Dzyuba to rifle the ball beyond Gomes.
Ten minutes later and Spurs were all at sea again, this time caught square by the same Dzyuba who lashed the ball home to double his and his team's tally. Plenty of problems, then, for Redknapp to sort out at halftime. Off went the hapless Gilberto to be replaced by Aaron Lennon and the game changed as Gareth Bale switched to leftback.
Midway through the half, Lennon pulled the ball back to Luca Modric and the Croatian midfielder finished with aplomb for his first Tottenham goal. Now Spurs started to relax, upped the pace and equalised on 74 minutes with a peach of goal as Bale's cross was headed home by the unmarked Huddlestone.
"They were technically clever on the ball but I would have been really disappointed had we gone out and that's what was happening at 2-0 down," said Redknapp, whose team now face a drop-down side from the Champions League in today's draw for the last 32. "We showed great character to come back but to be honest I don't think there's a way back for Gilberto. He just doesn't feel confident playing here."
Laudrup was proud of his side and said he believed they could spring an upset. "Everyone said it was impossible to win here but then everyone said that last year," he said. "But in the last half an hour a lot of our players looked tired."
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-1-1): Gomes; Gunter, Zokora, Dawson, Gilberto (Lennon, h-t); Bentley, Huddlestone, O'Hara, Bale; Modric; Campbell. Substitutes not used: Cesar (gk), Assou-Ekotto, Bostock, Parrett, Dervite, Obika.
Spartak Moscow (4-4-2): Pletikosa; Parshivlyuk, Fathi, Jiranek, Rodriguez; Shishkin (Bazhenov, 85), Kovalchuk, Rizhkov (Grigorev, 60), Maloyan (Zotov, 72); Saenko, Dzyuba. Substitutes not used: Dzanaev, Stranzl, Pavlenko, Prudnikov.
Referee: P Proenca (Portugal).Reuse content