Tottenham booked their place in the Europa League knockout stage with a 2-1 victory over Sheriff Tiraspol at White Hart Lane that saw Jermain Defoe become the club’s record scorer in European competition but Erik Lamela steal the show. Lamela has so far embodied the struggles of Tottenham’s array of new arrivals to gel into the force most expect them to become, but on Thursday he provided the clearest signs yet of the talent that prompted Spurs to make him their record signing.
As in the first match in Moldova two weeks ago, and indeed in many of their outings this season, there was plenty of toiling in vain from Tottenham. But on this night Lamela showed the way with his quick feet adding a vital new dimension to his side’s attack. It was the Argentine’s well-taken goal that put the hosts in front on the hour mark, before seven minutes later he went on a scintillating dribble that Sheriff could only thwart by taking him down in the box. Defoe smashed home the penalty for his 23rd goal in Europe for the club to overtake Martin Chivers’s mark. Ismail Isa pulled one back soon after but Tottenham saw out the victory to maintain their perfect record in this season’s competition.
Again there were plenty of changes by Andre Villas-Boas, with the attack and midfield completely overhauled. Included in those brought into the side was Etienne Capoue, who encouragingly came through his first appearance since suffering an ankle injury at the start of September.
The hosts dominated in the opening half, with over three-quarters of possession, but their threat on the opposition goal was minimal. Capoue had one of the better efforts with a shot struck wide from 25 yards after surging through the middle. The best chance, though, fell to Defoe. After equaling Chivers’s record in Moldova, he really should have broken it in first-half injury time but swung and missed at a volley five yards out.
For all Tottenham’s control of the ball, Sheriff could have gone into the interval in front. Isa’s shot from the area was deflected onto the outside of the post by Younes Kaboul, while Ricardinho will have been disappointed to not find the target form 20 yards after having been gifted the ball by Christian Eriksen.
Eriksen provided a more impressive impact at the other end to start the second half but his fine strike from 25 yards was tipped over by Vjekoslav Tomic. The Sheriff goalkeeper, though, could do nothing to prevent Tottenham going in front minutes later. Lamela, in typical fashion, drifted in with the ball from the right flank before looking for a return pass into the box from Eriksen. The ball deflected off a defender but fell into Lamela’s path regardless and after adjusting his body, the former Roma man slammed the ball low past Tomic at his near post.
The second goal was not long in coming, with Lamela again to the fore. Sheriff were beguiled as his silky, quick feet enabled him to go between two defenders before beating a third in the box but being taken to the ground by Djibril Paye. Defoe rifled the ball into the roof of the net from the spot as the man whose record he had just eclipsed looked on with a smile.
Sheriff pulled one back when Friedel parried Cadu’s shot back into the danger zone and Isa converted acrobatically, but they never looked like making the evening anymore uncomfortable for the home side.