Tottenham hang on to beat Vitesse in Antonio Contes furious first match
World Sports: Three goals to the good inside 28 minutes, it felt as though Antonio Conte was set fair to enjoy himself in his first game in charge of Tottenham. But that would have been to overestimate his new team’s capacity to make life easy for them.
Nobody should ever do that and at least Conte has now had his first sight – up close and uncomfortable – of what he must fix as the club seek to put the problems of the recent past behind them; namely, the soft underbelly that has blighted the season so far and helped to account for Nuno Espírito Santo.
Spurs were good in an attacking sense for that first portion of this Europa League Conference tie, which was marred by fighting in the Vitesse section of the stadium. And so in that sense, the performance was an upgrade to the Despírito era. Son Heung-min and Lucas Moura got on to the scoresheet before an own goal from Jacob Rasmussen, with Son, in particular, looking in the mood.
But Spurs were wobbly at the back throughout. Conte had been granted next to no time to prepare with his players, a delay in his work permit meaning that he could not take what stood to be his first training sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday.
He still made a tactical change, implementing his favoured back three systems, even though it was unfamiliar to this group of players, and they struggled to grasp what he wanted. The communication was not there and Spurs left spaces all over.
The concessions that brought the scoreline back to 3-2 by half-time had been signposted, Vitesse threatening in open play and from set-pieces and when Cristian Romero got himself sent off in the 59th minute, it became extremely edgy for Spurs. They have not exactly wanted to be in this competition but had they allowed the game to slip away from them, there would have been the prospect of an embarrassing early exit.
Vitesse pushed and Hugo Lloris was called into action. Conte switched to 4-4-1 and later 5-3-1 as he sought a route out of what had become a siege. And yet it would be the Eredivisie team that imploded. Their captain, Danilho Doekhi, collected a second yellow card on 81 minutes for manhandling Harry Kane to the ground and, moments later, as chaos well and truly descended, the goalkeeper, Markus Schubert, received a straight red.
Spurs had sprung forward through Emerson Royal and, with Schubert having left his area, the right wing-back attempted to lob him. Schubert handled and that was the end of his night.
And so Spurs finished in the ascendancy, with the substitute Giovani Lo Celso blowing a glorious one-on-one opening in stoppage time, laid on by another replacement, Tanguy Ndombele. It was wild and it was incident-filled, with one Spurs supporter running across the pitch just before Lo Celso’s miss to goad the travelling fans. Brainless barely covered it. At the end of it all, Conte could exhale. Welcome to Spurs.
There was a buzz at the outset, with Conte warmly welcomed by the home fans – he responded with applause to all corners of the stadium – and he would get the early goal he craved.
Schubert did well to block from Moura, who had been released by Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, but when the ball broke and Kane piled in, the goalkeeper’s attempt to paw clear sent the ball off the prone Riechedly Bazoer and to Son, who hammered home.
Conte had gone full power with his starting XI – a stark contrast to the shadow side that Nuno had fielded two weeks ago in the 1-0 defeat in Arnhem – but the nerves jangled whenever Vitesse got on to the front foot. Ben Davies got away with one when he caught Nikolai Baden Frederiksen inside the area and the Vitesse winger also dragged wide when well placed with the game goalless. At 1-0, Doekhi headed off target.
Vitesse was high and loose, too, and Spurs took advantage, playing through them with some style. Son had seen a second-minute shot cleared off the line by Bazoer and he would rattle the near post on 21 minutes. By then, Kane had sent Moura away for 2-0 and Spurs’ third came shortly after Son had put the ball in the net only to be called back for a debatable offside. VAR was not in operation. Davies crossed low and Rasmussen bundled into his own net under pressure from Kane.
Back came Vitesse. As the crowd trouble erupted inside the visiting enclosure, Lloris tipped over from Sondre Tronstad and from the ensuing corner, Rasmussen got above Eric Dier to head home. Vitesse had hope. Then they had another goal. Moura gave the ball away and Yann Gboho played in Matus Bero, who finished coolly.
The interval offered a chance to rake over the chaos in the stands. It had flared on the half-hour and rumbled on for a good few minutes, luminous-bibbed stewards battling to restore order, pushing back the Vitesse fans, some of whom appeared to hurl projectiles.
Spurs started the second half sloppily, with the Vitesse substitute Loïs Openda working Lloris and then drawing Romero, who looked strangely flat-footed, into a second yellow card foul. Vitesse camped inside the Spurs half and created chances, too. An unmarked Eli Dasa lashed high after a corner and, after another, Bazoer fully extended Lloris. It would be the closest that they came.