Tottenham face long road as ruthless streak goes missing
Tottenham 1 Fiorentina 1
If the final months of the season are going to test Spurs' nerve and their legs, this was not a good start. Hosting Fiorentina in the first leg of their Europa League last-32 tie, they could not maintain their early pace and slipped to a disappointing draw.
That result is not fatal, but it does mean that qualification will require a victory, far more effort, and far more of the resources they were hoping to save for the League Cup final at Wembley three days later. Any hope of a comfortable stay in Florence next week evaporated here in a performance that lost all ideas and incisiveness, despite a good start.
Roberto Soldado put Spurs ahead early on, but the evening got steadily worse. Christian Eriksen and Nacer Chadli missed chances to give Spurs a comfortable lead - as did Soldado - and when Fiorentina came back into the game Spurs had little response.
The whole second half was played at Fiorentina's pace, leaving a worrying sense that Spurs may have used up too much of their physical resources just before the serious business begins.
With so many important games imminent - not least the League Cup final in nine days' time - Mauricio Pochettino risked resting his star player, Harry Kane.
Still, Spurs began as they often do, with a physical intensity their opponents could not handle. Soldado was involved from the start, sliding a pass through to Chadli who ought to have beaten Ciprian Tatarusanu. Spurs need not have worried. Paulinho took the corner from the right, Soldado pulled away to the edge of the box and volleyed the ball perfectly into the far bottom corner.
Fiorentina could not get into the game and Spurs had chances to pull away into a useful lead. Eriksen skewed one over the bar from a Chadli pass, Soldado hit an audacious overhead kick straight at Tatarusanu. Paulinho had a shot saved from distance and Andros Townsend had his effort deflected wide.
Spurs paid the price for their wastefulness. Fiorentina had been growing into the game, and when Soldado scythed down Matias Fernandez with an authentic forward's tackle, Fernandez whipped in the free-kick from the left, Hugo Lloris palmed it away and Jose Maria Basanta bundled it in at the near post.
That is the ruthlessness required at this level and when Spurs had a chance to re-take the lead, just before the break, they missed it. Tatarusanu saved Soldado's header, Chadli could not quite get enough on the rebound and it hit the bar, the goal-line and bounced out.
Tottenham started the second half limply. Fiorentina were increasingly comfortable, directed by David Pizarro's passing from deep and with Mohamed Salah's runs stretching Spurs.
Needing a change, Pochettino sent on Kane for Chadli, in the hope of some more heroics.
Spurs threatened to flicker into life - Paulinho and Soldado forcing saves - before fizzling out again. Erik Lamela came on, and then Ryan Mason, but there was no recovering that early burst. Fiorentina looked more like winning, Mario Gomez almost sliding a cross in at the near post, Matias Fernandez shooting just wide. Spurs must hope too much damage has not already been done. (© Independent News Service)