Mauricio Pochettino’s perfect start to life at the Tottenham helm continued on Thursday evening as they booked their place in the Europa League group stage by brushing aside AEL Limassol with a 3-0 victory at White Hart Lane.
Harry Kane opened the scoring on the stroke of half-time after missing a penalty before Paulinho and a spot-kick by Andros Townsend wrapped up the win after the break. It is fair to say things could not have gone much better for the former Argentina international since swapping Southampton for north London, having not only won all four matches but earned plaudits for the manner in they have secured those results.
The latest victory came at the expense of AEL Limassol, who were no match for a free-flowing Tottenham side who cruised into the Europa League group stage with a 5-1 victory on aggregate. The Cypriots were a shadow of the side that threatened to cause a shock last week, when Spurs just managed to eke out a 2-1 comeback win on a bobbly, cut-up pitch in warm conditions.
Tottenham had no such issues with pitch or climate in north London and looked likely to be in for a comfortable evening when Karim Fegrouch brought down Kyle Naughton with just six minutes on the clock. The AEL goalkeeper was taken to hospital after receiving a nasty-looking knee to the head in the collision, which did not immediately cost his side as replacement Pulpo Romero denied a poor Kane penalty.
It was a missed opportunity Tottenham never looked like they would pay for, though, and they eventually turned their dominance into the opening goal on the stroke of half-time when sloppy play allowed Kane slot home. Paulinho provided the assist and was the benefactor of more sloppy play from Cypriots minutes into the second half, firing low across the goalkeeper.
Townsend then celebrated his England recall by slotting home from the spot midway through the second half, securing a comfortable win and Spurs’ place in Friday’s group stage draw. Pochettino spoke in the build-up of his hope that Manchester United’s humbling at MK Dons would sharpen his players’ focus and it appeared to have worked as they began the brightly, with Naughton winning a sixth-minute penalty after a clumsy challenge that left goalkeeper Fegrouch in trouble.
The Moroccan took a knee to the head and required lengthy on-field treatment before leaving the field on a stretcher, with his replacement Romero quick to make his mark by saving Kane’s penalty attempt with his legs. It was a poor strike down the middle by the forward yet he looked unfazed, coming close to making up for it by ending a mazy run with a 20-yard strike that stung the palms of the AEL goalkeeper.
Kane, like the first leg, was proving a handful for the Cypriots, who again failed to shackle the front man shortly after Mousa Dembele struck wide from the edge of the box. In truth, the striker should have done better than scooping over Aaron Lennon’s squared ball – a poor shot he put behind him by giving Spurs the lead just before the break.
A sloppy AEL pass was lapped up by Paulinho, who rolled ball into the path of Kane to strike low past Romero. Provider turned goalscorer when play resumed after the break and more dilly-dallying by the visitors. Vlad Chiriches tackled the dawdling Diallo Guidileye and Paulinho collected the ball, jinking to his right before firing across the goalkeeper.
Lukasz Gikiewicz woke Lloris from his slumber with AEL’s first shot on target in the 56th minute, although it was a merely a brief interlude as Spurs soon returned to the attack. Only a wonderful last-ditch block prevented Lennon scoring a wonderful chipped effort, with Kane forcing Romero into a save at his near post before Edmar conceded a penalty for handling Naughton’s cross.
Townsend stepped up for the spot-kick and duly sent the goalkeeper the wrong way, with Kane wasting a decent chance to add another with less than 15 minutes remaining. Romero tipped over a long-range strike from Townsend and then prevented Paulinho scoring directly from the resulting corner, with Ben Davies seeing a shot from distance parried behind.
The AEL goalkeeper pushed away an audacious Paulinho overhead and then denied Kane, before the final whistle put the visitors out of their misery.