This wasn’t exactly how José Mourinho would have planned it. But having watched Tottenham struggle against opponents who were competing in the Austrian second tier in 2017, a late penalty from Dele Alli ensured they qualified for the knockout stages of the Europa League with a game to spare, despite Mamoudou Karamoko’s late equaliser.
On night that Joe Hart will be keen to forget in a hurry, a penalty from Gareth Bale and Son Heung-min’s 12th goal of the season had looked like being enough until Lask equalised with six minutes to go having earlier taken the lead after a mistake from the former England goalkeeper.
In a frenetic finale Alli – on for only his sixth appearance of the season – kept his nerve before Karamoko’s late blockbuster earned a share of the points for the Austrian side.
Yet having selected a strong starting lineup despite making eight changes from the team that blunted Chelsea’s attack at the weekend, Mourinho struggled to find the positives from their lacklustre performance in the first half. An Instagram post with the message: “Training tomorrow but at 12:00” was his way of saying so.
Having swatted these opponents aside with a comfortable 3-0 victory at the end of October to begin the group phase, Dominik Thalhammer’s side came into the match knowing only a victory could keep alive their hopes of progressing and they should have been way ahead by the break.
Johannes Eggestein was afforded far too much space after Tottenham gave the ball away in a dangerous position and the German striker saw his effort cannon off a post in the first of a series of chances created by the home side. The decision to retain Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Tanguy Ndombele and Son from the draw against Chelsea was an indication of the importance Mourinho had placed on advancing with one game to spare, with Harry Kane having been left out after missing training on Wednesday.
The England captain is expected to return to face Arsenal on Sunday but it remains to be seen if that applies to Harry Winks, who was left on the bench along with Alli.
“I believe [Kane] is going to be fit,” Mourinho said. “I’m not sure. He’s having treatment but I could be doing some bluff and pretend he’s in trouble, but he’s not and I think he’ll play.”
Asked why Alli had been used so sparingly this season, he added: “I don’t have any problem with Dele, I don’t have any problem with any one of the players. It’s not about that.”
Bale has played just 116 minutes in the Premier League since signing on loan from Real Madrid but he made his fifth successive start in this competition. Other than seeing a goal-bound free-kick punched away volleyball-style by Peter Michorl, his main contribution until his penalty with the last kick of the first half was to lose track of the player he was supposed to be marking as Hart was forced into an excellent save to deny René Renner.
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Hart should have dealt with Lask’s next attempt after Matt Doherty had lost possession but Michori’s effort from long distance gave his side a deserved lead.
Tottenham needed a stroke of good fortunate to intervene and it arrived just before the interval when Ndombele’s shot struck the unfortunate Panama defender Andrés Andrade, who scored an own goal in the meeting in London in October, on an arm from close range and Bale stroked home from the spot for his 200th career goal.
Tottenham were ahead within 11 minutes of the restart. Ndombele’s turnover in midfield left Lask’s defence at the mercy of Son’s electric pace and he made no mistake to give Spurs the lead. He should have had another soon afterwards but Bale’s unselfish pass across the box the clean through was off target.
The introduction of Moussa Sissoko to replace Lucas Moura with 25 minutes still to play was a sure sign Mourinho was satisfied, while Eric Dier was also introduced for Giovani Lo Celso as Tottenham tried to shut up shop.
For once, the plan did not work. Davinson Sánchez was guilty of playing Eggestein onside but Hart was again at fault as the striker’s shot beat him at his near post before a fellow substitute, Steven Bergwijn, was brought down at the other end to hand Alli his rare moment in the sun.