Shkendija 1 Tottenham Hotspur 3
Another box ticked by Tottenham Hotspur on this long road to the Europa League group stages, but only after a remarkable episode in which Jose Mourinho was forced to demand that the size of the goals was readjusted.
Tottenham truly are a long way from the luxury of the Champions League now. On this trip to face Shkendija in Macedonia, Mourinho’s goalkeepers trotted out to warm up and immediately felt that something was wrong. “My goalkeepers told me that the goal was too small,” said the Tottenham head coach.
“I went by myself and the goal was too small. I am not a goalkeeper but when I spread my arms I know the difference. We got the Uefa delegate to confirm and, yes, it was 5cm smaller. Of course we demanded for the goals to be replaced with goals of the right dimension.”
Mourinho has seen most things down the years, but he surely cannot have experienced this before. “A funny situation,” he said, unclear whether it was an accident or skulduggery. Following a swift investigation, the goals were promptly taken down by stadium staff and reassembled at their proper height.
Tottenham will be thankful that they were, because their task would have been made even more difficult with smaller targets to aim for. Once again Mourinho’s side had a scare in Europe, and it took the introduction of Harry Kane and Giovani Lo Celso for the match to be won.
This qualifying campaign has been far from glamorous for Tottenham, and it was certainly not ideal for Mourinho that he was forced to use Kane in a second half that became much more nervy than it should have been.
In the end their superiority was never in doubt, but questions will linger over Tottenham’s ability to create chances against deep-lying defences. Shkendija offered so little in attack but they seized their one chance and, for a few minutes at least, put genuine concern into the minds of Mourinho and his players.
Thankfully for Tottenham, the reliable duo of Kane and Son Heung-min combined once again to wrestle the match back in the away side’s favour. Son put Tottenham back in front with 20 minutes remaining and then crossed for Kane to score the third.
“It is nice to win,” said Mourinho. “To win three in a row away from home is even better. We just did our job. We did not play magnificent.”
It was a fine finish to the match for the visitors, following a rapid start when Erik Lamela put them in front before five minutes had passed. In these opening stages Shkendija looked a little starstruck, somehow allowing Lamela the freedom of the penalty area. A simple pass from Son picked him out, and his shot was steered into the corner.
Dele Alli should have increased the lead before the break but fired straight at goalkeeper Kostadin Zahov. Alli had been left out of the previous two squads and, with Paris Saint-Germain set to pull out of negotiations to sign him, he struggled to influence the game.
Watching from the other end of the pitch was Joe Hart, who in the first half was about as busy on his debut as the Macedonian stewards behind his adjusted goal. It all changed shortly after the break, though, when Tottenham were suddenly stung by the most unexpected of equalisers. Valmir Nafiu took aim from the edge of the box and unleashed an unstoppable effort into Hart’s top corner.
Mourinho’s response was predictable enough: Kane and Lo Celso were summoned from the bench. A few minutes later, Kane missed a clear opening by heading wide from around six yards.
Fortunately for Mourinho, Son was not quite so wasteful. Lucas Moura’s shot was palmed into the path of the Korean, who steered home his fifth goal in five days. Son then crossed for Kane to put the game beyond any doubt and ensure the job was done.
Shkendija: Zahov, Pavic, Bejtulai, Murati, Krivak, Nafiu (Ramadani, 85), Dita (Zejnullai, 77), Ahmedi, Ljupcho Doriev (Merdjani, 85), Totre, Ibraimi.
Subs not used: Redjepi, Neziri, Sadriu, Es Sahhal.
Goal: Nafiu (55).
Tottenham Hotspur: Hart, Alderweireld, Aurier, Davies, Sanchez, Winks (Lo Celso, 59), Bergwijn (Lucas Moura, 66), Ndombele, Lamela, Son, Alli (Kane, 60).
Subs not used: Lloris, Doherty, Sissoko, Dier.
Goals: Lamela (5), Son (70), Kane (79).
Referee: Ali Palabiyik (Turkey).