Champions League – Tie on knife-edge as Spurs fight back

Tottenham came from three goals down in a 3-2 Champions League play-off first-round defeat to Young Boys of Bern at the Stade de Suisse Wankdorf.

Helped by some dreadful Spurs defending Senad Lulic, Henri Bienvenu and Xavier Hochstrasser gave Young Boys a shock 3-0 lead.

But the English side fought back to earn two vital away goals – one a header from Sebastien Bassong and one a late screamer from Roman Pavlyuchenko – although the hosts could easily had added more as Spurs continued to flirt with the self-destruct button.

Whether they struggled for match fitness so soon after the season-opening draw with Manchester City, or whether it was on account of the plastic pitch, Spurs were dreadful at the back.

Bosnian Lulic fired a warning shot in the second minute, hitting the post after a one-two with David Degen, and two minutes later he put the hosts ahead.

The Premier League side failed to clear a free-kick, Bienvenu had a crack from distance and – after ricochets off Spurs and Young Boys players – Lulic found himself unmarked on the left to fire past Heurelho Gomes.

Spurs initially rallied, Marco Woelfli saving well from Giovani Dos Santos on the Mexican’s first Spurs start in a year, while Jermain Defoe blasted over from 18 yards after Gareth Bale knocked the ball into his path.

But, on 13 minutes, Young Boys were two ahead after the poor Wilson Palacios let Thierry Doubai’s ball slide past a wooden Michael Dawson, who was dragged well upfield and showed a worrying lack of pace in chasing Cameroonian Bienvenu, who just strode towards goal and rolled the ball past Gomes.

Defoe had a superb chance to pull one back, but dragged his finish wide after electing to use his preferred right foot to meet Bale’s cross.

And, despite having more possession and a similar number of efforts on goal, Spurs were three behind before the half-hour mark after more comic defending.

Bassong allowed a straight ball from Moreno Costanzo to run through, showing a Dawson-esque inability to recover and – with Benoit Assou-Ekotto out of position – Hochstrasser ran clean through to lash his finish past Gomes.

Along with Bassong, Assou-Ekotto was having a nightmare, making regular errors and walking a tightrope after an early foul on Degen – younger brother of Liverpool flop Philipp Degen – earned him a booking.

He was also being given a torrid time by Anglo-Swiss right-back Scott Sutter, a Spurs fan who turned his back on the Swiss national team after deciding he wanted to play for England.

After his performance Fabio Capello should probably take note: Assou-Ekotto was hauled off on 36 minutes for Tom Huddlestone, rested from starting on the plastic due to his rusty knees, and Spurs immediately found more vigour.

Three minutes before the break they pulled one back as Bassong – on his European debut – powered a corner from Bale in off the glove of Woelfli.

On the stroke of half-time Defoe spurned another chance, heading wide after a superb cross from Bale followed a surging run from Huddlestone, who took the game by the scruff of the neck.

Spurs were themselves again and they dominated the second half from the outset, although it took them 10 minutes to create a meaningful opportunity when Pavlyuchenko spooned a far post finish over after a wicked cross from the impressive Bale.

Huddlestone was then clearly pulled back in the box by Francois Affolter but Belgian referee Franck De Bleekere waved Spurs’ appeals away.

Young Boys appeared boosted by those let-offs and went close to a fourth when Bassong managed to block Degen’s finish after he made mincemeat of Palacios.

Bienvenu should have made it four but headed over when found unmarked by Degen’s corner as Spurs, who were committing men forward, ran the gauntlet.

Substitute Christian Schneuwly had two gilt-edged opportunities to put the tie beyond Spurs, smashing over after more comedy defending from Spurs let Degen pick him out twice in succession.

But, within a minute of the second miss, Pavlyuchenko atoned for one of his poorer nights in a Spurs shirt with the move of the match.

Vedran Corluka knocked a ball inside from the right, which the Russian stepped over, spinning off on to sub Robbie Keane’s first-time flick, which he thrashed into the roof of the net from an angle.

It was a fantastic strike and for the first time in the night Spurs were calm, seeing out the seven minutes left on the clock by keeping possession and almost grabbing a leveller when Pavlyuchenko hit the side netting in injury time.

Tottenham now only need to win 1-0 or 2-1 to seal their progress into the group stages, although Young Boys – who like Spurs have never played in the Champions League proper – will fancy their chances at White Hart Lane on August 25.

Reda Maher / Eurosport

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