Wolfsberger AC 1 (Liendl pen 54)
Tottenham Hotspur 4 (Son 13, Bale 28, Moura 34, Vinicius 88)
THE HALLMARK of a top player is an ability to deliver when the spotlight shines brightest, and both Gareth Bale and Dele Alli passed their tests of character with flying colours in Budapest as Tottenham all but booked a place in the last 16 of the Europa League.
Jose Mourinho had questioned the commitment and attitude of both players this season, but appeared to have given them a chance to prove they can get back to the sort of form that once made Bale the world’s most expensive player, and Alli the most promising teenager in Europe.
Neither player would dispute that they have struggled to recapture that sort of form this season, but in Budapest last night they showed the sort of hunger, commitment and most importantly skill that Mourinho has been looking for.
Bale set up Heung Min Son’s opener and scored a superb goal himself as Spurs cruised to a 3-0 lead in a one-sided first-half, while Alli gave a strong performance that showed he deserves to be more than a fringe player at a club that has fallen from the top to the middle of the Premier League in the past two months.
And although both were substituted in what became an unnecessarily nervy second-half for Spurs, Mourinho had no complaints about their performances. “I don’t like to talk about individual performances, and the objective was to win as a team. This was not an exam for anyone, but I was happy with everyone including those two, who were positive.”
Instead of being late substitutes chasing a lost cause, as they were at Manchester City last weekend, they were key players who were instrumental in giving Spurs a three-goal lead to take back to London for the second leg, which should be a formality. But the contrast in quality of opponent was striking. Where they were steamrollered by Europe’s most in-form side last Saturday, in Budapest they rolled over the lowest-ranked team left in European competition.
The game was effectively won in the first half. Bale set up Son to break the deadlock in the 13th minute with a cutback and cross that the Korean did well to divert into the far corner with a diving header from close range.
When Matt Doherty put Bale in on the right again 15 minutes later, the Welshman looked set to shoot from a tight angle but instead chopped the ball back, sending his marker Jonathan Scherzer sliding off the pitch. Bale then swivelled on to his favoured left-foot and smashed an unstoppable shot past goalkeeper Alexander Kofler. It was vintage Bale, and exactly the sort of quality Spurs fans had been yearning to see since his return from Real Madrid last summer. Mourinho replaced him with Erik Lamela in the 64th minute, but explained it was to “save a few miles in his legs” ahead of Tottenham’s trip to West Ham on Sunday, suggesting he is back in favour.
Dele Alli also will come into Mourinho’s reckoning, especially as Harry Kane missed this game because of fears over his recent ankle injury, but again Mourinho believes he will be fit for Sunday.
Lucas Moura made it 3-0 before half-time with a mazy run past three defenders and low finish, and Spurs should have closed out the game. But a clumsy challenge from Moussa Sissoko conceded a penalty, scored by Wolfsberger’s captain Michael Liendl, and the Austrian side found renewed belief. Hugo Lloris had saved well twice in a largely one-sided first-half, but was relieved to see a shot from Christopher Wernitznig rebound off the underside of the crossbar. But Tottenham restored their three-goal advantage in the closing stages when Carlos Vinicius volleyed home from close range after Lamela flicked on Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s cross. “”We have one foot in the next round,” said Mourinho. “But we have played ten games in this competition, everyone wants to win it and we have a lot more to do to reach Gdansk (venue of the final).”
Kofler 6; Novak 5 (Pavelic 81), Baumgartner 6, Lochoshvili 5, Scherzer 5; Taferner 6 (Hanriksson 46), Sprangler 6 (Giorbelidze 64), Wernitznig 6; Joveljić 7 (Dieng 64) Liendl 7, Vizinger 6 (Stratznig 46)
Lloris 7; Doherty 6, Alderweireld 7, Dier 7, Davies 7; Sissoko 5 (Hojbjerg 78), Winks 7; Bale 8 (Lamela 64), Dele 8 (Ndombele 78), Moura 7 (Bergwijn 64); Son 7 (Vincius 46)
Referee: Ali Palabiyik (Turkey) 7/10