Tottenham Hotspur’s trip to Bulgaria was meant to be a brief business trip — a mere formality, as they were “only” facing last season’s second-place finishers, Lokomotiv Plovdiv — to move one step closer to the UEFA Europa League group stage.
What Jose Mourinho and Co., got, instead, was a desperate, all-out scrap for their place in Europe’s “other” competition.
After 79 minutes, Tottenham — with the likes of Harry Kane, Son Heung-min, Giovani Lo Celso, Steven Bergwijn, Davinson Sanchez, Eric Dier and Hugo Lloris all in the starting lineup, and Tanguy Ndombele, Lucas Moura and Erik Lamela into the game off the bench — trailed 1-0 inside the 13,220-capacity Stadion Lokomotiv.
Georgi Minchev put the home side ahead in the 72nd minute. Seven minutes later, unadulterated madness ensued, and no one in the world actually saw what was unfolding — though, it sounds like this was actually better for Spurs fans.
According to reports from journalists and broadcasters inside the stadium — we say this because, well, the satellite feed from Bulgaria was lost — two Plovdiv players were sent off on the same play, which also resulted in a penalty kick being awarded to Spurs.
Birsent Karagaren picked up a second yellow, while Dinis Almeida saw straight red. Not even the official Europa League website has a strong grasp of what transpired.
Harry Kane stepped up to the spot and converted to pull Spurs level at 1-1. Five minutes later, it was Ndombele who bagged the winner with an assist from Lucas Moura.
Some might say, that’s exactly how Mourinho drew it up. Others might say, he has accelerated the life cycle of his employment and season no. 2 is the new season no. 3.
Up next in Spurs’ quest for European glory is an away bout with Macedonian side Shkendija. The win of that clash will advance to the playoff round, the final round of qualification to reach the group stage.