A FIRST Tottenham goal for Erik Lamela and a record-breaking penalty from Jermain Defoe secured safe passage into the knockout rounds of the Europa League for Andre Villas-Boas' side as they finally broke down a spirited Sheriff side.
The first half at White Hart Lane had seen little in the way of creativity from Spurs but they burst into life after an hour with new boy Lamela at the heart of their attacking prowess.
The 21-year-old has been used sparingly by Villas-Boas since his arrival from Roma and has yet to start a Barclays Premier League game for Spurs but he made the difference against the reigning Moldovan champions, who succumbed to a 2-1 defeat in north London.
Lamela put in one of his most assured performances in a Tottenham shirt and topped it off by tucking away the first goal of the game 15 minutes into the second half, before being tripped inside the box moments later to give Defoe a chance to make history from 12 yards.
But Spurs did not have everything their own way. For all of their defensive work Sheriff threatened twice in the first half before Ismail Isa grabbed a goal on 72 minutes to keep Tottenham on their toes.
Tottenham started the game brightly enough but Sheriff came with a blueprint copied from several other visiting teams in recent White Hart Lane fixtures and set out to frustrate their hosts.
Moussa Dembele had the first effort of the night after seven minutes as he rode a number of half-hearted challenges before firing in a low shot which Vjekoslav Tomic pushed behind for a corner.
Lamela, another player recalled for the game, had calls for a first penalty turned down after 20 minutes. The Argentina international was caught by Djibril Paye and, after originally looking to stay on his feet, tumbled over with referee Kenn Hansen unmoved.
For all of Tottenham's possession they were almost caught out in the 25th minute as Sheriff broke forward and Isa's shot deflected on to a post off the boot of Younes Kaboul.
Christian Eriksen's lapse in concentration almost gifted the visitors the lead shortly afterwards as he rolled the ball across his own penalty area and in to the path of Ricardinho, who arrowed a shot wide of Brad Friedel's right-hand post.
Spurs soon regained the upper hand as Lamela had two efforts blocked by brave Sheriff defending but it was turning in to a similar story for the home side as they failed to create any clear-cut chances.
The second half started where the first 45 minutes had left of as Sheriff looked to keep things tight at the back and limit the number of chances Tottenham's front players could create.
Friedel, who set the record for the oldest player to appear in this competition when he was named in the starting line-up, was forced in to making his first save of the evening as Luvannor Henrique curled a low effort which the 42-year-old dealt with comfortably.
Tomic in the Sheriff goal was forced in to a much smarter save just seconds later as Eriksen let fly from 25 yards with the Croatian goalkeeper tipping his shot over at full stretch.
But Spurs finally broke the Moldovan's resilience on the hour as Lamela struck a composed shot past Tomic after Eriksen's return ball had deflected in to his path.
Lamela was again heavily involved in Defoe's record-breaking goal as he was brought down inside the box with the 31-year-old thumping home the resulting penalty to move clear as Tottenham's leading goalscorer in European competition.
Sheriff were soon handed a lifeline as Friedel could only parry a shot from Cadu with Isa on hand to finish coolly and make it an uncomfortable final 20 minutes for the hosts as they conceded their first goal of this year's competition.
Any late charge towards Friedel's goal failed to materialise as Tottenham claimed their fourth win in four Group K matches and confirmed their place in the final-32 with two games remaining.
Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas revealed the squad's delight for Defoe, but hopes they now go on to progress deep into the competition.
"We are all particularly happy for him," he said. "It is a great honour and will stay in time like Martin's and will be very difficult to break.
"I hope it means this club will continue on this competition in to the later stages to make it even more prestigious for him.
"We were expectant and glad that it happened today. We were trying to put him through on goal, Erik did very well to create the chance through the penalty and he slotted it home."
England international Defoe will harbour aspirations of making Roy Hodgson's squad for next summer's World Cup and revealed he had been told by Chivers at half-time to make the record his own.
"He's a legend," Defoe told ITV4. "I saw him at half-time. He said to me keep it going you'll get it, it is so nice for someone like Martin to say that."
He added: "It was frustrating tonight, I couldn't really get much space. I just thought to myself stay patient - to go to the top of the list I'm delighted. I was confident, what an opportunity to do it."
Despite Defoe's landmark goal the evening arguably belonged to Argentina international Lamela as he started to show the White Hart Lane faithful the level of ability he possesses.
Villas-Boas had previously said the language barrier and a struggle with adapting to British life had led to the former Roma man's slow start in north London.
But he was at the centre of almost everything good that Spurs managed on an evening that was only slightly dented by Ismail Isa's consolation strike.
"We were waiting for a good performance from him and I think we got it today," he said.
"We have been patient with him and he has delivered with a game in which he had no fear, took people on and created a lot. We saw some signs for what he can do for us and hopefully now he can progress."
Sheriff head coach Veaceslav Rusnac felt his side played well but conceded Spurs were the better team and has backed Villas-Boas' side to go all the way in the competition.
"They played very well to win the game," he said.
"I think Tottenham are the main favourites to win the Europa League. I think we played a great team today and we played to our capabilities.
"We created some good chances at 0-0 and are overall quite happy with the way we played."