It turned out to be a quite entertaining game at White Hart Lane, but not all the fun was provided by players. The fans took things into their own hands during a lacklustre first half, with three invaders charging on the pitch in the space of 20 minutes attempting to take selfies with the less than impressed Spurs players. The third incident forced the referee Yevgen Aranovsky to suspend the match for 10 minutes with little remaining of the first half. This indeed sparked Tottenham players into life in the second half, resulting in a goal for Benjamin Stambouli – his first for the club – and a lot of wasted opportunities. The hosts managed to stay tight at the back and the result sees them progress into the last 32 of the Europa League.
The first half offered little excitement as Spurs struggled to break down a solid Partizan defence, resulting in a few shots from distance. The Serbians looked to strike from counter attacks and indeed appeared far more direct than their North London opponents but failed to create a clear cut chance. Tottenham were in the driving seat from minute one when Soldado dragged a shot inches wide from the edge of the box.
The visitors threatened from one of their many counter attacks as Grbic whipped a ball into the six yard box from the byline and Vertonghen did just enough to put off a diving Skuletic who could not get enough on the header to direct it past Lloris. After 18 minutes, another counter attack from the Serbs resulted in a cross into the box that fell to Lazovic, who controlled and under pressure fired a half volley past the post. On the other side of the park Soldado was few inches away from connecting with Lamela’s low cross from the left flank.
The most entertaining event of the first half was a cheeky supporter running on the field and getting selfies with Tottenham players like Vertonghen and Lamela before evading a few match stewards and eventually getting caught and being carried away. More questions were asked of the state of security at White Hart Lane as two more pitch invaders were allowed to run onto the field minutes later. The latter forced the referee to suspend the game for a few minutes and call the players into the tunnel. While nothing was happening on the pitch, things heated up in the stands as supporters with Albania flags and shirts emerged from nowhere in the middle of Tottenham supporters and started chanting towards the visiting Serbian fans, who responded in similar fashion. This was without doubt a reference to the EURO 2016 Group Qualifier between Albania and Serbia, which was abandoned after 42 minutes due to a brawl between players and fans after a drone with a flag of Greater Albania interrupted the game.
After things cooled down, the referee brought the players back out of the tunnel to finish the few minutes that remained of the first half, with the only thing of notice being Lamela’s shot that went wide of the post. The best player for Tottenham at this point of the game was Benjamin Stambouli, who not only broke down most of the visitor’s attacks before they became a threat, but also created a lot in the game himself, playing wingers and wing backs into good positions to deliver into the box.
It was a different Spurs side that emerged from the changing rooms after half time. They had a lot more directness and threat about them. It took only 3 minutes into the second half for them to strike as Stambouli played in Soldado, who beat the advancing goalkeeper to see his shot come off the far post into the path of the following Stambouli, who had the easy task of tapping into the empty goal from six yards to record his first goal in a white shirt.
Soldado then should have got his goal after 56 minutes when he was left alone behind the Partizan defence with enough time to walk the ball into the net if he chose to, but instead opted to blast the ball straight into the advancing Lukac who made an excellent stop to deny the Spaniard. Two minutes later, Lamela came agonisingly close to finding the bottom right corner of the goal with a 20 yard blast. Harry Kane came on with 24 minutes left to play and brought even more spark to the Tottenham performance when he played in Paulinho, who was tackled but the ball fell to Lamela who released a first touch effort from the left edge of the box just over the far top corner. Kane then forced another good stop from Lukac from a 30 yard free kick that was aiming for the left post. The referee Yevgen Aranovsky then made the crowd laugh as he slipped on the pitch and his momentum nearly made him slide tackle Aaron Lennon with the ball, who did well to evade him.
Tottenham will be pleased with their much improved second half performance and really should have scored more goals, but in the end it mattered little as they have secured a spot in the final 32 of Europa League. However, they are now facing possible sanctions from UEFA following the behaviour of their supporters. Apart from netting the only goal, Stambouli was a presence in the Tottenham midfield today. He broke down the attacks of Belgrade players and when given the opportunity charged forward, which was how he got his goal after following up Roberto Soldado’s shot. He was also essential in making things happen for his team as he created play as well, especially down both flanks. He completed a total of 88% of his passes and made three tackles and three fouls to break down play, more than any other of his teammates.