James Lawton: Spurs will forget the squalid finish and focus on how they came of age

Gattuso plays the ruffian easy enough but he is the most knowing of pros and his purpose was plain enough. He was hell-bent on stoking up emotion in his team

Are Spurs for real? Are they doing more than making a nice little splash on their return to the top of European football? Yes, we can say that. Indeed we can say more. We can say that this was a brilliant example of a team who have found a way to move to new levels of achievement.

It meant that they not only beat Milan but also pushed them into behaviour which shamed the team's great tradition, which left it rooted in the gutter when their enforcer-in-chief Gennaro Gattuso head-butted Spurs coach Joe Jordan, a man who earned much respect in Milan in his stint as a striker there.

Yet Spurs, and certainly Jordan, will dismiss the squalid climax. The winning was everything, and brilliantly preserved by the French referee who noted the linesman's signal that Zlatan Ibrahimovic, in his most menacing moment of Milan's lost night, blatantly fouled before putting the ball in the net in the last moments of added time.

You can never guarantee a result, never legislate for refereeing oversight but you can go out and play to your strengths and you can keep on doing it because you know it is the right way for you, the best expression of what you have to offer.

No, football doesn't give certainties – only the challenge that Spurs met magnificently in the big stadium that for so long has been one of the great stages of the European game. Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp didn't have any goals to celebrate when he re-gathered his men at the interval but he could tell them, with his hand on his heart, that they had made another step forward in their Champions League adventure. A few months ago they had devastated the other tenants of San Siro, Internazionale, at White Hart Lane and now they were taking the fight to the leaders of Serie A.

Spurs did everything right in the early going, so well, especially down the left, that they could only mourn all over again the absence of the scourge of Inter, Gareth Bale. They might also have yearned for Luka Modric to be on the field rather than the bench but they did have Rafael van der Vaart and he produced some moments of authentic menace. His presence grew – and was most visible early in the second half when an exquisite chip floated just wide after leaving substitute goalkeeper Marco Amelia no more than a dead man awaiting his fate.

Tottenham also had Peter Crouch making dangerous runs, Aaron Lennon flaring on the right, and if Steven Pienaar was not Bale, and perhaps not even the more optimistic Niko Kranjcar, over whom he had won the managerial nod, he was steady, progressive and impressively composed. The trouble was that something had to stir in Milan and if not all that emerged from them was pleasant – and least of all Mathieu Flamini's cynical tackle that put out Vedran Corluka and should have earned a red card – there was no doubt that the replacement of the veteran Clarence Seedorf by the young Brazilian flier Alexandre Pato brought much needed life.

It also brought the most desperate, disgusting behaviour from Gattuso, who pushed both Crouch and Jordan in the face when the tension turned sharply in the direction of anarchy. It was probably more calculated than that, however. Gattuso plays the ruffian easily enough but he is the most knowing of pros and his purpose was plain enough.

He was hell-bent on stoking up emotion and vital signs in his team. He certainly managed this, but at high personal cost – a yellow card that keeps him out of the second leg and surely, when his overall conduct is considered, somewhat longer than that. The initiative though was with Milan now and no doubt Redknapp sought to turn back the red-and-black flow tide when he sent on Modric for the the tiring Van der Vaart, and Kranjcar for Pienaar.

The big reward came, brilliantly, elsewhere. Lennon produced another burst of pure speed and this time kept his head wonderfully well. He broke through a fractured Milan defence, drew the old hero Alessandro Nesta towards him, then placed a perfect ball into the path of Crouch.

Crouch, who had earlier repulsed the close attentions of Gattuso with superb disdain, even mockery, scored as if it were the easiest thing in the world. It was a statement of re-asserted authority that could not have been bettered. It spoke of a team who had once again suggested that they might just indeed be coming of age.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk