Tottenham Hotspur’s dream European adventure continued at the San Siro on Tuesday night as Peter Crouch grabbed the only goal in a 1-0 victory over AC Milan.
Despite playing without the injured Gareth Bale, the hat-trick hero when Spurs last played in the stadium in a 4-3 defeat to Inter, Spurs put in a controlled and professional performance that belied their relative inexperience on the Champions League stage.
Crouch struck 10 minutes from time on a lightning counterattack in a half otherwise dominated by the hosts.
It puts the English side in a strong position ahead of the second leg at what will surely be a white hot White Hart Lane in three weeks time.
“What a performance from us. We stood tall to a man — Sandro, Steven Pienaar, Michael Dawson, Heurelho Gomes ... I could go on,” Spurs manager Harry Redknapp said. “I said to the lads too, at halftime, to get it to Aaron Lennon whenever we could because he tore the leftback apart all night — and his role in the goal was fantastic. It’s a great night for the fans and a great night for Tottenham.”
Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri said his side had not got going early enough.
“In the first half we were too afraid to go forward, it was difficult to play in such tight spaces and we made many mistakes,” Allegri said. “That allowed Tottenham to win the ball and counter. In the second half we changed, but our efforts weren’t enough.”
Given that Tottenham are playing in their first season in the Champions League under its current format and Milan are seven-time kings of Europe, it was surprisingly the visitors who settled quickest.
They opened up their hosts after just five minutes with a fine move when a long cross from Vedran Corluka found Crouch, who controlled the ball on his chest, but then slipped at the crucial moment and was crowded out by Gennaro Gattuso before firing off a rushed shot.
On 11 minutes another great move from Spurs saw Corluka put Aaron Lennon in behind Luca Antonini, but Christian Abbiati dived out to punch his cross off Crouch’s head.
More good work from Spurs ended with Rafael van der Vaart scuffing a long-range shot.
Abbiati had to come off with a head injury and was taken to hospital, to be replaced by Marco Amelia.
Milan’s only chance of note was a Zlatan Ibrahimovic free-kick that didn’t trouble Heurelho Gomes.
Just before halftime van der Vaart tried his luck from distance, but Amelia tipped it over the bar and then just after the restart he beat the goalkeeper with a clever chip that sailed just wide of the post.
Milan finally threatened on 50 minutes when Gattuso stood the ball up and Mario Yepes met it with a bullet header that Gomes saved brilliantly with one hand.
Mathieu Flamini was then very lucky to stay on the field for a horror two-footed lunge with studs showing on Corluka, receiving only a yellow card.
Corluka had to be replaced by Jonathan Woodgate.
On the hour Gomes then made another point-blank save from a Yepes header.
Milan were bossing the game by this stage and Flamini had a shot charged down that looked headed goalwards.
Spurs then hit Milan with a rapier counterattack when substitute Luca Modric sent Lennon scampering away and he skinned Yepes, who tried in vain to bring him down, before squaring for Crouch to slot into an unguarded net.
Michael Dawson threw himself in front of a Robinho effort as Milan attempted a stoppage-time rally and Ibrahimovic had the ball in the net with an acrobatic volley that was disallowed for a marginal offside.