Kane and Ndombele to the res­cue but Bale can­not ar­rive too soon

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Football - By Sam Dean

These are strange times in­deed at Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur, a club who are si­mul­ta­ne­ously scrap­ing through a dread­ful Europa League qual­i­fier while fi­nal­is­ing a deal for one of the planet’s most fa­mous foot­ballers.

They can only hope that Gareth Bale was watch­ing the same un­re­li­able feed as their sup­port­ers last night, for no player could have seen this per­for­mance and thought it looked like fun.

Jose Mour­inho’s side lacked ideas and they were in dan­ger of be­ing knocked out of the Europa League be­fore they had even reached the com­pe­ti­tion proper. It took a dou­ble red card for Loko­mo­tiv Plov­div for Spurs to make the break­through, with Harry Kane and Tan­guy Ndombele scor­ing in the fi­nal 10 min­utes to res­cue the oc­ca­sion.

Plov­div had taken the lead a few mo­ments ear­lier, cast­ing doubt on whether Tot­ten­ham will in­deed be play­ing any Euro­pean foot­ball this cam­paign. What would that have meant for their finances? What would it have meant for the pur­suit of Bale? Mour­inho and Daniel Levy, the chair­man, will be thank­ful that, ul­ti­mately, those questions will not need to be an­swered.

“When they scored it was a mo­ment for them to dream and a mo­ment for us to fear for our fu­ture in the com­pe­ti­tion,” said Mour­inho, whose team were dom­i­nant through­out with­out ever look­ing es­pe­cially fluid in at­tack.

They cre­ated chances in both halves but, against lim­ited op­po­si­tion, Tot­ten­ham never seemed sharp. Only when Plov­div lost

Birsent Kara­garen and Di­nis Almeida to red cards did the vis­i­tors re­ally look like a team ca­pa­ble of sweep­ing the op­po­si­tion aside.

On a more en­cour­ag­ing note, it will be a source of ex­cite­ment for Mour­inho that Ndombele was so as­sured off the bench. Tot­ten­ham’s record sign­ing has strug­gled since join­ing the club but here he in­jected en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm. For the win­ner, he started and fin­ished the move. Such an in­ter­ven­tion can only help to build his self-be­lief, and that of his man­ager.

“Tan­guy is in a process of evo­lu­tion,” Mour­inho said. “Last sea­son he was stuck in a sit­u­a­tion where I could not see evo­lu­tion. In this mo­ment he is train­ing very well. He is re­cov­er­ing from his in­jury, he is re­cov­er­ing phys­i­cal­ity. In this mo­ment I be­lieve in Tan­guy. I never doubt his qual­ity – in some mo­ments I doubt his mo­ti­va­tion, com­mit­ment and pro­fes­sional at­ti­tude.”

Plov­div fin­ished fifth in the Bul­gar­ian league last sea­son and qual­i­fied for Euro­pean com­pe­ti­tion by win­ning the coun­try’s do­mes­tic cup. They were never expected to pose too much of a threat to Spurs but the one-off na­ture of these qual­i­fiers, with ev­ery­thing de­cided on the night, pro­vided a per­ilous edge to pro­ceed­ings.

As Tot­ten­ham strug­gled to turn dom­i­nance into chances, Mour­inho’s mind might al­ready have been drift­ing to­wards Bale. One would cer­tainly ex­pect the Welsh­man to fin­ish some of the op­por­tu­ni­ties spurned by Son He­ung-min and Gio­vani

Lo Celso. “I can­not com­ment on some­thing I don’t know,” Mour­inho said of the Bale re­ports. “Un­til I am told Gareth is a Tot­ten­ham player, I still think and re­spect the fact he is a Real Madrid player.”

De­spite Tot­ten­ham be­ing far from their best, Plov­div rode their luck. The

Big mo­ments: Harry Kane equalises with a penalty for Spurs against Loko­mo­tiv Plov­div last night (right); Gareth Bale hopes to get the No11 shirt at Tot­ten­ham which he was also handed on sign­ing for Real Madrid in 2013 (be­low) home side were some­how able to avoid con­ced­ing a penalty de­spite Lu­cas Ma­so­ero com­mit­ting the most ob­vi­ous of fouls on Steven Berg­wijn, who was hacked down on the right side of the box.

The prob­lem for Tot­ten­ham, as it has been too of­ten un­der Mour­inho’s man­age­ment, was that their fleet­ing mo­ments of at­tack­ing prom­ise did not be­come sus­tained pres­sure on the op­po­si­tion. If any­thing they be­came more stodgy in the sec­ond half, with the fire­works pro­vided not by their at­tack­ing play­ers but by the Plov­div fans out­side the ground.

Af­ter the break, Son skied an easy chance from six yards and the body lan­guage of the play­ers, and in­deed Mour­inho him­self, be­gan to be­tray Tot­ten­ham’s frus­tra­tions. A year ago this week, Spurs were play­ing in a packed-out sta­dium against Olympia­cos in the Cham­pi­ons League. This in­creas­ingly grim oc­ca­sion was a neat en­cap­su­la­tion of their dif­fi­cul­ties since.

They fell be­hind af­ter 71 min­utes, when Ge­orgi Minchev headed in from Dim­i­tar Iliev’s cross. A gru­elling oc­ca­sion sud­denly threat­ened to be­come a gruesome night, be­fore a hand­ball on the line by Almeida al­lowed Kane to equalise from 12 yards. Be­fore Kane struck, Kara­garen re­ceived a sec­ond yel­low card for try­ing to dig up the penalty spot. A few min­utes later, Ndombele drove through mid­field, passed to Lu­cas Moura and con­verted the cross him­self.

Loko­mo­tiv Plov­div (3-4-3) Lukov 6; Petro­vic 6, Ma­so­ero 5, Almeida 4; Kara­garen 4, Vi­tanov 5 (Mi­hal­je­vic 81), Umar­bayev 5 (Minchev 68), Tsve­tanov 6; Iliev 5, Aral­ica 5 (Ilic 68), Sali­nas 6. Subs Pir­gov (g), Mus­limovic, Pugliese, Niko­laev.

Booked Ma­so­ero. Sent off Almeida, Kara­garen. Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur (4-3-3) Lloris 6; Do­herty 5, Sanchez 5 (Moura 73), Dier 5, Davies 6; Sis­soko 5 (Ndombele 61), Ho­jb­jerg 6, Lo Celso 6; Berg­wijn 6 (Lamela 70), Kane 6, Son 6. Subs Hart (g), Carter-Vick­ers, Winks, Sesseg­non.

Ref­eree Harm Os­mers (Ger­many).

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