Sigurdsson saves Spurs’ European ambitions

MARIBOR 1 vs TOTTENHAM 1

TOTTENHAM manager Andre Villas-Boas last night said that he was content to take a point from their Europa League Group J fixture away to Maribor after his team had unexpectedly fallen behind.

Gylfi Sigurdsson scored a second-half equaliser after Robert Beric had given the Slovenians a half-time lead with a goal scored only a matter of minutes before the break. Tottenham consequently have three points from three games and are in third place in a group which is among the hardest in a tournament the Portuguese manager wants to win, though after an underwhelming opening 45 minutes he revealed he was pleased to settle for the point that had earlier appeared unlikely.

“The second half was extremely good, the first half was not so good,” Villas-Boas said. “We came back into the game, which is pleasant to see again and it is good for us to bounce back.

“It is obviously not the full result we wanted bearing in mind the draw between Lazio and Panathinaikos, but certainly we will take a point. The group is completely open. What we face now is two games at home and I think we are in a good position in the group. We are in third position. We have three games to play, there are nine points to play for.

“You see the group – it is very tight. It is not a group where the leader has run off with points.”

Group leaders Lazio have accumulated a total of just five points which means that though Spurs remain at risk of what Villas-Boas would consider to be a premature elimination, they are equally capable of finishing first and advancing to the tournament’s knockout stages in a perhaps unexpectedly impressive manner.

The at times challenging balancing act between a team’s European and domestic pursuits may be something with which the London club are struggling but it regardless remained obvious that they were the stronger of the two teams and, in reality, it was against the run of play that the home side took the lead.

Jan Vertonghen, Sandro and Jermain Defoe had all threatened but it was Beric who first scored only three minutes before half-time with an almost effortless two-yard tap in from Alex Mejac’s run and pass.

By 13 minutes after the restart Sandro and Defoe had already gone close and it was the latter whose powerful shot prompted a block from Mejac that fell to Sigurdsson to bundle in from only a yard, and it was ultimately a move that was to prove crucial.

■ LIVERPOOL last night secured a narrow 1-0 victory over Anzhi Makhachkala to take them top of the Europa League’s Group A after £20m winger Stewart Downing – who has yet to largely feature since the summer appointment of Brendan Rodgers as manager – cut inside from the left wing in the 53rd minute and unleashed a powerful angled shot beyond Gabulov for the winner.
Newcastle, meanwhile, defeated Club Bruges 1-0 at St James’ Park with a 48th-minute goal from former Manchester United midfielder Gabriel Obertan.