Benji Stambouli scored his first goal for the Club as we edged past FK Partizan at the Lane on Thursday evening to book our place in the knockout stages of the UEFA Europa League.
The French midfielder – making his seventh appearance since his arrival from Montpellier in the summer - was on hand to slot home early in the second half, a goal which proved to be the match-winner. A draw in our final Group C game in Besiktas next month will be enough to secure top spot, after the Turkish side drew 2-2 away to Asteras Tripolis in Thursday night’s other game.
The match was significant for Aaron Lennon as it marked his 400th senior career appearance and the midfielder was fantastic on the night, at the hub of most of our good work as we enjoyed a strong second half showing after a quiet first period.
Just a couple of minutes were on the clock when Erik Lamela found Roberto Soldado but he dragged his right-foot shot wide from the edge of the area. And Kyle Naughton had a rare sight of goal on five minutes, winning a tackle 25 yards out, receiving a flicked pass from Lennon and volleying over from distance.
Partizan’s only point in the group to date had come against us in the away fixture and they showed their intent to add to that tally, creating a number of opportunities in the first half, Petar Skuletic with their first on 10 minutes but he couldn’t get enough purchase on his header from Petar Grbic’s cross.
Eight minutes later Branko Ilic latched onto a ball over the top, looped it from the byline into the area and it was chested by Danko Lazovic but his neat volley curled just wide.
We went close on 21 minutes when Mousa Dembele found Lamela out wide but his low cross just evaded Soldado, before Hugo Lloris was called into action, making a comfortable save from Nikola Ninkovic’s 20-yard drive.
The keeper needed to be alert again just before the half hour mark, rushing out quickly to push Skuletic away from goal after the striker had latched onto a clipped ball over the top, and when he delivered a low centre in the danger zone, Lazovic couldn’t get the vital touch.
A neat build-up on 38 minutes saw Lennon down the left flank, laying the ball into the path of Stambouli and his 25-yard effort was gathered by Partizan keeper Milan Lukac. The last action of note in the half saw Lamela fire harmlessly wide and it remained goalless at the interval.
Not for long though! Just four minutes into the second period and we were ahead after a lovely move involving Stambouli and Soldado. The latter flicked the ball into Stambouli’s path midway inside the Partizan half, he advanced before slipping a neat pass through to the Spanish striker who lofted a shot over Lukac. That hit the post and rebounded perfectly for Stambouli to tuck home into an empty net from 12 yards out.
The visitors were on the attack shortly after but Lazovic fired wide, while at the other end Lukac produced a fine save to tip Paulinho’s effort round the post. Seconds later, Lennon dinked a majestic ball into Soldado, who had just the keeper to beat six yards out but Lukac’s outstretched hand denied him the goal.
And Lamela almost doubled our lead on 68 minutes after Paulinho was tackled 20 yards from goal, the Argentine running onto the loose ball and hitting a rising drive which just cleared the angle of far post and crossbar.
Partizan continued to carry a threat going forwards though and went close to levelling when substitute Andrija Zivkovic shot wide after great work down the right flank from Grbic, while our own substitute Harry Kane brought a smart save out of Lukac with a 30-yard free-kick. The visiting keeper then needed to scurry back and tip over Nabil Bentaleb’s shot which deflected off Skuletic and almost looped in.
Kane had the ball in the net on 83 minutes after more clever play by Lennon, but the assistant’s flag went up late for offside and it was ruled out before Lloris produced a truly magnificent save to deny Vladimir Volkov with an unmarked header six yards out, and Zivkovic put the rebound into the side netting.
Young midfielder Harry Winks came on for Paulinho for the closing stages, the 18-year-old making his first team debut, and we should have wrapped up the contest on 88 minutes as Stambouli burst through the middle but opted to pass to Lamela rather than take the chance himself and the angle was too tight for the Argentine to convert.
He almost did net in stoppage time though, only for Lukac to produce a superb one-handed save to deny Lamela’s curling left-foot drive, but Stambouli’s strike proved to be enough.
Spurs: Lloris, Naughton, Vertonghen, Chiriches, Davies, Dembele (Bentaleb 56), Stambouli, Lennon, Paulinho (Winks 87), Lamela, Soldado (Kane 66). Substitutes (not used): Vorm, Dier, Ball, Eriksen.
Partizan: Lukac, B Ilic, Cirkovic, Stankovic, Volkov, S Ilic (Marinkovic 74), Markovic, Ninkovic (A Zivkovic 62), Grbic, Skuletic (Kojic 78), Lazovic. Substitutes (not used): Z Zivkovic, Petrovic, Luka, Fofana.
Goal: Spurs – Stambouli 49.
Yellow cards: Spurs – Stambouli; Partizan – Grbic, B Ilic.
Referee: Yevhen Aranovskiy.