Tottenham 5 NS Mura 1
There will be bigger nights than this in Nuno Espirito Santo’s managerial reign at Tottenham Hotspur, however long it lasts, and bigger battles to be won. In the heat of the moment, though, and amid all those dark clouds that have gathered above this club in recent weeks, their victory here would have felt as needed as any.
Tottenham’s five-match winless run is over, and they have their first positive result in the new Europa Conference League. Best of all, there were three precious goals for Harry Kane, who entered the match as a second-half substitute and swiftly produced a 19-minute hat-trick to ease any simmering nerves in north London.
Clearly, a comfortable win over NS Mura does not automatically end all of the problems at Tottenham. The scars of Sunday’s loss at Arsenal will need much more time to heal, and Nuno’s side hardly produced their most exciting football here. But nothing soothes the pain like a heavy win and a handsome set of goals for their most important player.
Although he has not yet scored in the Premier League this season, Kane looked far more sharp on Thursday night than he has in recent weeks. The hold-up play, the running in behind, the delicate touches, the decisive finishing: it was all there in his second-half cameo, and there can be no more warming sight for his struggling manager.
The unavoidable caveat for Tottenham was the quality of the opposition here, with Mura representing by far the weakest opponent in the group. The difference in the sizes of the clubs could be highlighted in any number of ways, but the most eye-catching stat was that Mura did not even exist the last time Tottenham won a major trophy, in 2008.
The Slovenian side are not even the leading team in their own country at the moment, currently sitting fifth in their 10-man league after 11 games. They are simply operating in a different footballing world to Tottenham, who required only eight minutes to score twice and essentially kill the tie as a contest.
For Tottenham there was some early, and much-needed, joy to be found in Alli’s involvement in the opening goal. The midfielder was substituted at half-time of Sunday’s dispiriting defeat by Arsenal, having struggled horribly on the right side of a midfield three, but he looked far more comfortable here in the No 10 position in which he made his name.
Alli has always played his best football when he has had freedom, and that freedom only comes when there is a solid base behind him. Against Arsenal there was no base at all, perhaps because Alli himself was supposed to be providing the midfield security. Here, by contrast, he had both Oliver Skipp and Harry Winks sitting behind him.
An adventurous, unrestrained Alli remains one of the most watchable players in the Premier League and he was the standout player of the first half. After 12 minutes he was confident enough to attempt an outrageous nutmeg near the touchline. After 27 he danced down the left wing, skipping past two challenges. After 33 he fired a fierce shot at goal, testing Mura goalkeeper Matko Obradovic.
The opening goal came from Alli’s drive into the penalty box. Mura had snapped into a tackle on young Dane Scarlett, starting his second match of the season, but the ball bounced towards Alli. Both he and Obradovic tried to make contact with it, and both failed. Alli missed it entirely, and was subsequently dumped to the turf by the visiting goalkeeper. He converted the penalty with ease.
Four minutes later Lo Celso made it two, running onto a lofted pass by Winks and smashing a glorious finish into the top corner. It was all so easy that it even felt a little uncomfortable to watch.
Credit must go to the Mura supporters, all 50 of them, in the corner near their goal in the first half. Neither the early collapse of their team nor the swirling rain could dampen their enthusiasm for this match in one of the continent’s most glamorous arenas.
Uefa’s argument is that their new third-tier tournament is a welcome addition for this very reason: offering smaller teams a chance of European football. The counter-argument might be that this was not much of a match at first, and that the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium appeared less than half-full for a reason.
In fairness to Mura, their response after half-time suggested an underlying quality that was not visible in the first half. Out of nowhere they had suddenly scored, with Ziga Kous unleashing a superb volley from the edge of the box.
It was enough to alarm Nuno, who turned to Son Heung-min, Lucas Moura and Kane. The England captain soon restored calm, poking a low finish into the corner after running onto Moura’s pass.
He then had his second just a moments later, as Son scampered in behind the Mura defence and provided him with the simplest of tap-ins. The third came with two minutes remaining, with Kane collecting Lo Celso’s pass and sliding a typically assured finish into the corner.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-2-3-1): Gollini 6; Doherty 6, Romero 6, Rodon 6, Reguilon 6 (Royal 81); Skipp 6 (Hojbjerg 69), Winks 6; Lo Celso 7, Alli 7 (Son 59), Gil 7 (Lucas 59); Scarlett 6 (Kane 59) Booked: Skipp
Mura (3-5-2): Obradovic 5; Karnicnik 6, Marusko 5, Gorenc 6; Kous 6 (Mandic 75), Kozar 5, Horvat 5 (Lotric 75), Lorbek 5 (Ouro 75), Sturm 5; Marosa 5 (Cipot 85), Mulahusejnovic 5 (Skoflek 63) Booked: Marosa, Obradovic
Referee: Yigal Frid (ISR)