Maribor 1 - 1 Tottenham: Sigurdsson salvages point for Spurs
Gylfi Sigurdsson helped Tottenham rescue a point in Slovenia last night after an inept performance at NK Maribor saw them slump to a third successive Europa League draw.
The former Swansea midfielder has yet to find his feet since his summer arrival, but went some way to repaying the north Londoners’ faith by lashing home to ensure his side did not leave the Stadion Ljudski vrt empty-handed.
It was a goal that saved Spurs’ blushes on what was a frustrating night against a Maribor side that came into the match with a record of just two wins in their previous 15 European games on home soil.
Maribor lost home and away to the npower Championship side Birmingham in last season’s competition yet took the lead three minutes from half-time when Robert Beric prodded home.
Andre Villas-Boas brought on Iago Falque at the break in a bid to change things and the move paid dividends 13 minutes later, with the Spaniard playing in the cross that allowed Sigurdsson to score during a penalty-box melee.
Tottenham pushed for a winner but were unable to eke out another goal, with the point leaving them third in Group J at the halfway point.
Asked if he was happier with the result than the performance, Villas-Boas said: “Certainly on the running of the first half. The second half was extremely good, the first half was not so good.
“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.”
Villas-Boas named a strong-looking line-up in Slovenia, making just three changes to the side that lost 4-2 to Chelsea at the weekend.
Hugo Lloris, Kyle Naughton and Andros Townsend came in and would likely have been joined by Michael Dawson had he not been ruled out with illness.
The visitors dominated the early possession in Slovenia’s second city and took two minutes to get away their first shot, with Sigurdsson shooting wide after collecting a cross from Kyle Walker. Maribor’s main threat came on the counter attack and they found the net four minutes later through Beric, although the striker had already been flagged offside much to the home support’s audible frustration.
The game settled down after a frantic opening as the hosts started to make inroads forward, only to be let down time and time again by awry passing.
Agim Ibraimi saw a looped effort denied by Lloris as the home side looked for a surprise opener in a first half of few chances.
Walker lashed a 20-yard effort harmlessly wide and Jan Vertonghen saw a tame header easily caught by Jasmin Handanovic as Tottenham pushed for the evening’s first goal.
Sandro came close with a fierce 25-yard drive that drifted just wide, before Jermain Defoe directed over from the Brazil international’s cutback.
Villas-Boas’ side almost paid for their profligacy in front of goal after 39 minutes when Ales Mejac found space to hit a hopeful 30-yard strike just wide.
It was a warning that Tottenham failed to heed and three minutes later Maribor made them pay.
Dejan Mezga did superbly down the left and skipped past Tom Huddlestone’s challenge, before dinking the ball over Lloris for under-pressure Beric to stab home. Villas-Boas replaced the ineffective Townsend with Falque for the second half but it was Maribor who were first to threaten.
Mejac ran down the left four minutes after the restart and played through Tavares, whose goalbound prod was easily denied by Lloris.
The hosts, clearly buoyed by their first-half goal, saw Goran Cvijanovic fire over from distance as they again came close moments later but by the 58th minute the score was level.
Substitute Falque’s cross from the left fell for Defoe, whose thumping effort was somehow cleared off the line but fell straight for Sigurdsson to score from close range.
Ibraimi struck the side-netting as Maribor looked to make an immediate response, before Defoe and Walker produced strikes at the other end.
Naughton was booked for diving as Tottenham desperately searched for a winner, which left them exposed at the back and saw Beric come close to directing home.
Spurs substitute Clint Dempsey tested Handanovic as Villas-Boas’ side desperately searched for a winner, which never came despite Vertonghen’s best efforts late on.
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