Tottenham held firm in intimidating conditions to kick off the Europa League group stage with a hard-fought, goalless draw at Partizan Belgrade.
Given manager Mauricio Pochettino left five key players in north London for this match, it was always likely to be a tough test, and so it proved. Spurs lacked creativity but defended resolutely to secure a 0-0 draw in a daunting atmosphere at Partizan Stadium, where some home fans displayed what appeared to be an anti-Semitic banner.
It was an unsavoury sight and one Spurs may well complain about to governing body UEFA, just two years on from the disgusting racial abuse suffered by England Under-21s in Serbia. Spurs left-back Danny Rose was caught up in the problems that night and was among those rested for the match against Partizan, which began brightly as Harry Kane rattled the crossbar inside the opening two minutes.
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That, though, was to prove Spurs’ best chance as they struggled to create clear-cut opportunities and spent large parts of the match on the back foot. Federico Fazio and Benjamin Stambouli were handed their full debuts as Pochettino shuffled the pack, with Hugo Lloris the only survivor from Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Sunderland.
This match could not have been much more different to a Barclays Premier League encounter, with the teams welcomed by a huge banner, loud, repetitive chants and the odd fire-cracker. It would have been easy for Spurs to get intimidated, yet they began fantastically and almost took the lead after 65 seconds.
The ball fell to Kane – or ‘Kane Harry’, as the stadium announcer called him – after a Ben Davies corner, with the striker showing impressive composure to get away a shot from an acute angle, rattling the underside of the bar.
It was the only noteworthy shot Spurs managed during the opening exchanges, though, with Andros Townsend having an effort blocked and Nabil Bentaleb, Aaron Lennon and Kyle Naughton all failing to find their targets with passes of differing quality.
Pochettino’s men were dominating possession but Partizan were looking dangerous, with their first chance coming after 15 minutes when Petar Grbic impressively cut inside to square for Danko Lazovic, whose shot was quickly blocked.
The hosts came close again 10 minutes later when the previousl -assured Fazio misread a long throw into the box, putting Lazovic through only for a timely block and clearance to save the new signing’s blushes. Paulinho and Kane had efforts when Spurs returned to the attack either side of a deflected strike from Townsend, who was given a booking for dissent as half-time approached.
In truth, Spurs were a touch fortunate to go in at half-time level after being caught on the counter-attack in stoppage time. A quick break from a Spurs corner saw Danilo Pantic put through down the right, but the 17-year-old was unable to beat Lloris.
Davies was booked as Partizan continued on the front foot after the interval, with Jan Vertonghen having to produce a timely block on Lazovic before Grbic’s tame follow-up went straight to Lloris. Spurs introduced Roberto Soldado and Erik Lamela with 30 minutes remaining as they searched for a spark, which almost worked immediately when the two combined only for the former’s cross just to evade Kane.
Pantic and captain Sasa Ilic missed the target as Partizan looked for a winner as fire-crackers echoed around Partizan Stadium, where Kane could not beat the wall with a free-kick as the clock wound down.