Roberto Soldado bounced back from his barren spell to hit a hat-trick as Tottenham rounded out their Europa League group with a 4-1 victory over Anzhi Makhachkala at White Hart Lane. The result means Spurs finish with maximum points from their six matches, with Anzhi also already having secured their progress to the knockout phase before kickoff.
Soldado had been left out of the side for the past two matches as he continued to find goals hard to come by since his big-money summer move from Valencia. But, with coach Andre Villas-Boas used this inconsequential fixture to give the Spain international a chance to find his scoring boots, he responded encouragingly.
Soldado scored twice in the opening 16 minutes, first with a deft header from a Gylfi Sigurdsson free-kick before a clinical finish following Erik Lamela’s fine assist. Anzhi pulled one back before half-time as they showed up Tottenham’s weakened back line that had Ezequiel Fryers and Etienne Capoue playing as makeshift center-backs, with Ewerton stabbing in a corner. But first Lewis Holtby with a brilliant piece of skill and then Soldado from the penalty spot, made sure of the win after the interval.
As well as Soldado’s goals, Villas-Boas should also take encouragement from the general performance of his side ahead of a potentially pivotal meeting with Liverpool on Sunday. Holtby was excellent in a deeper-lying midfield role, while Sigurdsson, Lamela and Andros Townsend all had their moments in behind Soldado. Danny Rose also started on his return from injury, before being taken off at half time.
In contrast to what was to come, it was Anzhi that actually started the game the brighter. With nothing to play for, the Russian visitors played like a side eager to make a positive impression. They came close to doing just that inside five minutes, but Ilya Maksimov dallied too long when through on goal and Brad Friedel was able to block his weak effort.
And within two minutes they instead found themselves behind. Sigurdsson whipped in a superb free-kick with pace from the left of the area to which Soldado applied the deftest of glances to take it over the dive of Evgeny Pomazan in the Anzhi goal.
Soldado, who had previously gone almost two months without a goal from open play, had a second nine minutes later. Lamela was the creator on this occasion, showing a further glimpse of why Tottenham made him their record signing this summer, with a delightful pass through the legs of a defender to find Soldado, who took a touch before dispatching the ball into the corner of the net.
At that point Tottenham were playing with a tempo seen all too rarely this season and continued to threaten on the break as Anzhi pushed men forward. The hosts should have soon had a third goal too. Townsend was sent into the clear by Sigurdsson’s awareness but the winger never looked set and chipped over the goalkeeper but wide of the post.
With half-time approaching, Anzhi tested the makeshift Tottenham rearguard for the only concerted period in the match and got their reward. Abdul Razak and captain Jucilei had just gone close before, from the resulting corner, Ewerton was allowed to get in front of Kyle Naughton six yards out and stab the ball into the net.
That could have changed the complexion of the match, but instead Tottenham reasserted their authority in the second half. The goal of the match arrived in the 54th minute. Townsend cut in from the left in familiar fashion but this time, rather than hammer in a trademark shot, he produced a deft chip over the Anzhi defense to find the run of Holtby who controlled expertly before, all in one movement, skillfully volleying over the goalkeeper and into the corner.
The scoring was rounded out with 20 minutes to go, albeit with a heavy touch of fortune. Rose’s young replacement, Ryan Fredericks, showed his pace by burst through down the right of the box but went flying to the ground after Jucilei had pulled out of a challenge and the youngster had tripped over his own legs. His incensed rant to the official behind the goal appeared to make all the difference with the referee initially having waved play on. Not that Soldado minded the injustice of the decision as he placed the ball on the spot and dispatched it into the corner to complete his first treble for Tottenham.
The result might have been even more emphatic had Holtby not had a crisp 25-yard effort tipped wide. But with three wins on the bounce, Villas-Boas will hope that his overhauled squad are now beginning to gel in perfect time for the packed festive schedule.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.