After the excitement of two nights of Champions League high octane action, it was the turn of the Europa League to show its pedigree last night, as three of Britain's top clubs aimed to pit their wits against high class European opposition. Everton were slightly disappointed to only come away with a goalless draw from their travels to northern France, whereas both Celtic and Tottenham picked up all three points from their home games.
Lille 0 Everton 0
Everton top Europa League Group H after managing to shackle a lively Lille side, including Liverpool loanee and Belgian international striker Divock Origi. The draw came on the back of impressive performances in winning at home to Wolfsburg and earning a point against Krasnodar in Russia, ensuring that Roberto Martinez men are handily placed at half-way in the group stages.
It was a gritty, rather than spectacular display from the Toffees, with the sole chance in a dour first half falling to Lille's Idrissa Gueye, whose turn and shot went just wide of the target. There was hardly any more goalmouth action in the second period neither, as Origi was similarly off target for the hosts and Everton's best chance fell to Aiden McGeady, whose effort was partially saved by goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama before being cleared to safety.
Lille had an appeal for a penalty during the second half for what they thought was a handball when the ball struck Leighton Baines, which the officials waved away. It led to a brief moment of trouble, resulting in Everton's Steven Pienaar and Franck Beria for Lille going into the referee's book.
Everton were watched by more than 5,000 of their own fans at the Stade Pierre Mauroy, with many more believed to have made the trip to France. There had been disturbances prior to the game, including an attack on some of their supporters at a local bar by around fifty men, leading to gas being used by the French police in an attempt to break up the trouble.
Tottenham 5 Asteras Tripolis 1
Tottenham did even better than their Premier League counterparts as they enjoyed a relatively comfortable looking 5-1 win at home to the Greeks, Asteras Tripolis, who had been the group leaders before their visit to London. Asteras lacked nothing in attacking belief but were susceptible at the back when Spurs attacked, with the Spurs' side punishing them harshly throughout the match. After two solid draws in their first two group games, the win was a welcome relief for manager Mauricio Pochettino, as he attempts to progress in the competition while also juggling his squad to not hamper the club's Premier League aspirations after a slow start to the season on that front.
Already two goals to the good by half time through strikes by Harry Kane on 13 minutes and Erik Lamela's amazing "rabona" strike from 20 yards (wrapping the kicking leg around the back of the standing leg!) just before the half hour mark, they rounded off their performance in fine style in the last half hour. Lamela bagged himself a second on 66 minutes through persistence, as his right foot shot was blocked but his follow up left foot shot fizzed past the Asteras keeper, Tomas Kosicky. Then, after Tottenham's keeper Hugo Lloris had made a flying save on 68 minutes to push the shot just wide of the post after a spectacular scissor kick by Fernando Usero, it got even worse for the away side as Spurs added a fourth on 75 minutes when a Mousa Dembele shot was spilled out to Kane who gratefully tucked the rebound in. Kane added a fifth on 81 minutes to complete his first career hat-trick after his initial shot was blocked, but Federico Fazio recovered the ball and crossed for him to head in at the far post.
Spurs' finished the night with only ten men and Kane in goal (as a result of all their substitutions having been used already), following the sending off of their keeper Lloris near the end as last man when bringing down Tasos Tsokanis. The rather soft consolation goal from the resulting free-kick by Jerónimo Barrales at least gave the away fans something to remember from their White Hart Lane experience, when they probably deserved far more reward than they ended up with for their endeavours.
Spurs went joint top of their group with Besiktas on five points following the result.
Celtic 2 Astra Giurgiu 1
Celtic stay top of Group D after beating Romanian opposition at Celtic Park. They were made to work for their victory at home to Astra Giurgiu, but eventually secured a solid 2-1 win. Their breakthrough came in the 73rd minute through a goal for Stefan Scepovic, with Stefan Johansen looking to have made the game safe with a second for the Scottish Champions six minutes later. Gabriel Enache brought the tie back to life two minutes later when he reduced the arrears, but Celtic held on through a slightly nervy last ten minutes. #Football