Bale on winning side this time, as Tottenham kick-start Europa season with win over Austrians LASK
Tottenham 3 LASK 0
Europa League Group stage
They may not have matched the seven they hit against Maccabi Haifa in their last qualifier, but Spurs can look back with satisfaction on a decent night’s work.
Their Europa League campaign is up and running with the minimum of fuss.
The win ensures there will be no repeat of that weird quirk of fate Gareth Bale endured in his first spell at the club when he went some 25 games before being on the winning side.
It also went a little way to alleviating the pain of that weekend draw with West Ham when Jose Mourinho’s men blew a 3-0 lead in the final 10 minutes.
Tottenham’s opponents, fourth in the Austrian league last season, put out Sporting Lisbon with a resounding 4-1 win in Portugal to make it to this group stage, so represented more than mere cannon-fodder. But they suffered first-half injuries to a couple of players and were knocked back by two strikes.
This was by no means a full-strength Tottenham, with Harry Kane and Hueng-Min Son on the bench at kick-off. But it was still an important stage for those looking to prove they are going to be more than just understudies and bit-part players in a long and arduous campaign.
All eyes may have been on Bale – his first start since returning from exile - but this was also an important night for Kane’s deputy, Carlos Vinicius, who was making his debut.
And the 25-year-old Brazilian striker, on loan from Benfica, made a telling contribution for the opening goal, turning the ball back inside two defenders, giving Lucas Moura the simple task of slotting home. He would also claim an assist for the third, late on.
Bale’s excursions on the right always looked likely to bear fruit, however, and the Welshman claimed an assist for the second goal after 27 minutes when his cross with the outside of that trusty left foot was turned into his own net by LASK defender Andres Andrade.
Worthy of mention though was the impressive spring into the danger area from deep past four defenders by Sergio Reguilon – his final pass to Erik Lamela being helped on to Bale.
Lamela came close to finding the net himself moments later, but keeper Alexander Schlager got just enough on it to stop it slipping under him and over the line.
Joe Hart was called into action just before the break, leaping to his right to keep out a fine curling effort from outside the area by Andreas Gruber, but LASK were kept mostly at arm’s length.
Son, Dele Alli and Moussa Sissoka came on just past the hour. Bale and Lamela departed. This was a team playing within itself, but without suffering the consequences as it did when easing off against the Hammers.
Even then, Son and Alli both nearly scored for the home side, before Son slipped the ball home in the 84th minute after a smart head down by Vinicius. Matt Doherty’s cross had picked out the striker.
It was the South Korean’s ninth goal in eight games. He is simply unstoppable right now.
This Europa group should hold no terrors for Mourinho, who is a seeking a third winners’ medal in the competition, having guided both Porto and Man United to Europa League glory in the past. Ludogorets of Bulgaria and Royal Antwerp make up the four.
Tottenham: Hart – Doherty, Sanchez, Davies, Reguilon – Winks, Hojberg (Sissoko 62) – Lucas (Lo Celso 78), Bale (Son 62), Lamela (Alli 62) – Vinicius (Clarke 86). Subs not used: Lloris, Alderweireld, Kane, Bergwijn, Aurier, Ndombele, Austin