No matter what Erik Lamela goes on to achieve in his Tottenham career, this desperately routine Europa League home win might go down as a crucial moment. This was not one of the magical White Hart Lane European nights - FC Sheriff did not even bring any supporters with them - and Spurs' 2-1 win was far more comfortable than the score-line suggested, even after a first hour of rather directionless football.
But, despite all that, this was a heartening, promising evening for Tottenham Hotspur, and not because it confirmed their passage into this competition's last 32. Everyone connected with the club has been waiting and waiting for Erik Lamela to justify some of his €30million transfer fee from Roma. Before this match there had just been a flicker here, a glimmer there. This, though, was what they had been waiting for.
Lamela was one of nine players brought in after the 0-0 draw at Goodison Park - only Kyle Walker and Jan Vertonghen kept their places - and he was by far the best player on the pitch. He runs - cutting in from the right - with an odd side-on style, shepherding the ball with his left boot between and beyond any opponents that get in his way.
Although Spurs had all of the possession and territory in a rather flat first hour, not an awful lot came of it, except through Lamela. He was looking more comfortable than he had ever done before in a Spurs shirt, and should have won them a first half penalty. Tripped in the box by Djibril Paye, he took too long to go down, and when he did it looked like a dive.
Lamela's team-mates were so flat that they were nearly caught on the break. Ismail Isa's shot, after a fast counter, was deflected onto the post by Younes Kaboul before Eriksen gifted Ricardinho the ball on the edge of the box, only for him to drag his shot wide.
The second half did not start much better but, on the hour mark, Lamela finally summoned the spark and wit needed to put Spurs ahead. Darting in from the right, he found Christian Eriksen in space. The return pass bounced off Paye into Lamela's path and, with his open-bodied left-sided style, he stroked the ball into the bottom corner. He celebrated with relief at the end of an ordeal, but excitement at what is to come.
Villas-Boas was delighted, too, for the player from whom so much is expected. “We have been patient with Lamela,” he said afterwards. “We were waiting for a good performance and I think he delivered that today. We saw signs of what he can do for us and now he can progress. Adaptation has taken some time for personal reasons. Not speaking the language is difficult, and it is a completely different social life to Italy. He has no family here. He faced tough competition with Townsend's explosion. The player is on the right track to compete.”
The hope with Lamela was that one goal would unlock his confidence, that he would then go on to do far more. It only took six minutes, as Lamela, wholly emboldened, helped Spurs to their second goal. Dancing past Marko Stanojevic and Marcel Metoua, he was tripped by Paye, this time going down, this time being awarded the penalty he should have had in the first half. Jermain Defoe, who had been isolated for the first hour of play, took it and found the top corner, breaking Martin Chivers' European goalscoring record for Spurs.
There was time for Sheriff to score, Isa volleying in from Friedel's reboud after Cadu's shot, but Spurs were barely tested and substitutes Paulinho and Lewis Holtby nearly made it 3-1, which would have been a far fairer scoreline.
“It was a great game,” said Villas-Boas, who can be forgiven the slight exaggeration. “We really upped the tempo in the second half and we are pleased to be through.”
After Lamela's first goal, and an hour for Etienne Capoue on his return from injury after two months out, Spurs' usable options are starting to improve. “We have a frightening December schedule. Hopefully the team can deliver in those moments. I think they will because we have so much quality this season.”
Tottenham Hotspur (4-2-3-1) Friedel; Walker, Kaboul, Vertongen, Naughton; Capoue (Paulinho, 58), Dembélé; Lamela, Eriksen (Holtby, 81), Sigurdsson (Kane, 69); Defoe.
Sherrif (4-3-3) Tomic; Balima, Samardzic, Matoua, Paye; Stanojevic, Moyal (Furdui, 60), Cadu (Pascenco, 73); Ricardinho, Isa, Henrique (Pires, 88).
Referee K Hansen (Denmark).
Match rating 4/10.
Man of the match Lamela (Tottenham).Reuse content