Tottenham’s unfortunate habit of shooting themselves in the foot looks like costing them a place in the knockout phase of the Champions League, after Mauricio Pochettino’s men threw away a lead and all three points from a commanding position for the second European away game in succession.
Just as in Milan last month, when Spurs were ahead and in total control but conceded twice in the final eight minutes to lose, Tottenham blew a chance to get their first Champions League win and give themselves a chance of finishing in the top two places of Group B.
At least they got one point, their first of the campaign, after coming from behind to take a 2-1 lead early in the second-half. But a rush of blood and red card for Hugo Lloris in the closing stages reduced Spurs to 10 men, and when Luuk de Jong flicked the ball past replacement keeper Michel Vorm for a late, late equaliser, an air of inevitability settled over the away side and their supporters.
It means Spurs need to win their remaining three games, including an away trip to Barcelona in December, to have any real chance of overtaking Inter for second place.
They cannot afford to make the basic defensive errors that cost them two goals again, but nor should they let the opposition off the hook when they are on top, as they have done too often.
Pochettino was clear where the blame lies. “We were in control and playing well, but then it became contagious, the idea that we had done enough and could just keep possession, rather than be aggressive and score more goals.
“You cannot allow opponents to stay alive, you have to finish them off. The perception is that we are at the level of Barcelona to be in the Champions League, but when you play so well against PSV and don’t win, the reality is that we don’t deserve to be in the next round.”
Pochettino refused to blame individuals, although Lloris was left exposed when the otherwise Christian Eriksen lost possession, and Tony Alderweireld also cost Spurs a goal when he let Mexican winger Hirving Lozano in to score the opening goal in the 30th minute.
When I was young a manager said to me ‘don’t apologise if you make a mistake.’ Hugo did not have to apologise – it was something that happens often in football.
Pochettino was not convinced Lloris’s lunge on Lozano 20 yards from goal deserved a red card, and nor could he understand why Davison Sanchez had a goal disallowed for offiside. “But the referee is the boss,” he said with a rueful smile.
Alderweireld’s howler came when he receiving the ball 30 yards from goal, but Lozano was in quickly and the Belgian made a hash of his attempted backpass, instead setting the Mexican in on goal. Alderweireld tried to make amends with a sliding challenge but only served to assist Lozano as the ball looped high over Hugo Lloris and into the net.
Spurs were rocked but responded well. Sanchez thought he had equalised in the 36th minute when he rifled the ball past Jeroen Zoet after Alderweireld’s header had been poorly cleared, but Tottenham’s joy was cut short when the referee’s assistant flagged for offside against Kane, who was on the goal-line but not appear to be seeking to gain an advantage, and was not close to the keeper or ball as it went in.
Neverthless, Spurs were not to be denied for long as Lucas Moura did get them level three minutes later. Son, Eriksen and Kieran Trippier exchanged passes, and the England full-back had the presence of mind to cut the ball back for Moura, whose shot clipped a leg before nestling in the far corner of the net.
It was no more than Moura, or Spurs, deserved, but they almost fell behind again on the stroke of half-time when Gaston Pereiro was allowed to run into the danger area and send in a shot that clipped the top of the crossbar.
Spurs started the second half in full control, however, and Harry Kane soon nodded in Eriksen’s cross from close range. Zoet, who had made good saves from Kane and Heung Min Son before the break, then made a superb stop to keep out another header from Kane, who also hit the woodwork.
Zoet also repelled a vicious shot from Eriksen, and another from Kane before subsitute Erik Lamela hit the bar. Wehn Lloris was sent off, Vorm made a superb save from the resulting free-kick, but then de Jong struck at the death to ensure a draw that does little for either side’s chances of progressing to the knockout stages.
4-3-3 Zoet 8; Dumfries 6, Schwaab 6, Viergiver 6, Angelino 5; Rosario 6, Pereiro 7 (Gakpo 83), Hendrix 6; Lozano 7, de Jong 6, Malen 6 Subs not used: Room, Isimat-Marin, Behich, Sainsbury, Ramselaar, Gutierrez
4-2-3-1 Lloris 5; Trippier 7, Sanchez 7, Alderweireld 5, Davies 6; Dier 7, Dembele 5 (Winks 74); Lucas 6 (Lamela 66), Eriksen 8, Son 6 (Vorm 81); Kane 7 Subs not used: Wanyama, Sissoko, Llorente, Aurier
Slavko Vincic (Slovenia)