Andre Villas-Boas needed a performance more than a result, but he got both, as Tottenham Hotspur finished their Europa League group stage campaign with a rousing 4-1 win over Anzhi Makhachkala, built around Roberto Soldado's first Spurs hat-trick.
Tottenham had already won Group K but this match was never going to be meaningless. There are still - four months into the season - too many questions about Spurs' best system and personnel, and every competitive match can provide crucial clues.
So while Villas-Boas made seven changes to his team, it was no second string. He brought in players who should, in time, be regulars, in Soldado and Erik Lamela, as well as returning left-back Danny Rose, and was exceptionally well rewarded.
Soldado was excellent throughout, scoring twice early in the first half before completing his hat-trick with a penalty, his fourth for the club. When he went off for Shaquile Coulthirst he received a standing ovation and Villas-Boas was delighted for his Spanish striker.
“I'm extremely happy for him,” Villas-Boas said. “He's been waiting for a moment like this and it finally happened tonight with a hat-trick. It will be a major boost for a player who has been very professional and deserves respect.”
“As a striker, you have to persist and persist; finishing off the situations you are given and that final touch hasn't been there for him recently. It will be a great boost of confidence for him.”
Both of Soldado's first two goals, in a first-half in which Spurs tore into Anzhi, owed to sharp instinctive moment and swift reactions. The first came after just five minutes. To accommodate Lamela, Andros Townsend moved onto the left, and he won a free-kick there from Abdul Razak. Sigurdsson whipped it in, and even with the pace on the ball, Soldado flicked it with the top of his head off the inside of the far post and in.
The next goal - which will have pleased Villas-Boas even more - soon followed. Lamela drifted in from the right and played a delightful reverse pass to Soldado, who smacked it into the far bottom corner.
Townsend almost added a third, his chip drifting just wide of the goal, although it was Anzhi who scored before the break, as Ewerthon bundled in a corner at the far post.
Spurs, though, began the second-half in precisely the right way and were soon 3-1 up after some individual genius. Townsend chipped through to Holtby, running into the box. With the first touch of his left boot he cushioned the ball into the air, before turning his body and - with the ball still in the air - lifting it with the outside of that foot over the goalkeeper.
Ryan Fredericks replaced the returning Danny Rose, and Christian Eriksen came on - Spurs had five attacking midfielders for the last half hour - and they continued to push for goals. Soldado nearly headed in a Fredericks cross, before the pair combined even more successfully; the young right-back bursting forward and winning the penalty which Soldado converted, his fourth Spurs spot-kick.
Lamela nearly scored twice, first with a header, then a low shot, Holtby had a 30-yard shot palmed wide as Spurs finished the game with the same intensity with which they began it. “What pleased me most,” said Villas-Boas, “was the professionalism and dedication of the players; to give something back to a good house and the fans we had tonight.”
Tottenham Hotspur (4-2-3-1): Friedel; Naughton, Capoue, Fryers, Rose (Fredericks, 45); Dembele (Eriksen, 64), Holtby; Lamela, Sigurdsson, Townsend; Soldado (Coulthirst, 78).
Anzhi Makhachkala (4-2-3-1): Pomazan; Agalarov (Angbwa, 80), Ewerton, Epureanu, Grigalava; Jucieli, Razak (Gatagov, 85; Sobolev, Maksimov, Burmistrov; Serderov.
Referee S Johannesson (Swe).