The renaissance of Jermain Defoe continues apace. A striker once consigned to the periphery at Tottenham turned in a bravura performance last night in his leading role, scoring a consummate hat-trick that rekindled his club's Europa League ambitions and underlined his own reputation as one of this country's most lethal centre-forwards. The relief on the face of Andre Villas-Boas, beleaguered after a series of poor results for his side, was unmistakable.
One could argue that Defoe's display was a revelation. But then he has possessed these devilish finishing instincts since he was a teenager; only now, as one of Villas-Boas' chosen ones, is he beginning to show them regularly. His goals here were all wonderfully taken, reflecting his burgeoning dynamic with Gareth Bale, and more than good enough to vanquish Slovenian champions Maribor.
After three successive Europa League draws, Tottenham's position in Group J now looks a good deal more secure. At the final whistle, in one corner of the ground, there was even a chorus repeating the manager's name. The noise was faint, but significant nonetheless. Earlier, a mood of defiance pervaded White Hart Lane, and not just on the pitch. "We'll sing what we want," the Tottenham fans cried, responding to a claim by the Society of Black Lawyers that their traditional chant of "Yid army" was anti-Semitic and should be outlawed.
This very refrain was bellowed the second the team ran out, and sustained with gusto throughout the 90 minutes. Undoubtedly the romantic lustre of these European nights has dimmed a touch for Tottenham. The 'taxi for Maicon' song that rang out after Gareth Bale's Champions League demolition of the Inter Milan right-back seemed, suddenly, a long time ago. Looking at the equivalent player for Maribor, 'Taxi for Milec' somehow lacked the same resonance.
Still, few could accuse Villas-Boas of not taking the contest seriously. The Portuguese chose to play both his front-line strikers, Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor, as he chased a repeat dose of the glory he enjoyed in this competition with Porto last summer. The disciplined 4-4-2 system appeared a giant technical advance upon the days of Harry Redknapp, who once famously urged Roman Pavlyuchenko to "------- run around a bit!"
The presence of Jurgen Klinsmann, such a cult hero of the club, next to chairman Daniel Levy was a reminder of how far he had to travel before being truly accepted on this stretch of the Seven Sisters Road. Bale, at least, was displaying the type of flair to restore entertainment at Tottenham and to restore his manager's reputation. The Welshman proved almost impossible for Maribor to mark on the left flank, surging clear of Martin Milec at will. His forays finally yielded reward with a beautiful whipped cross from the left, all but telegraphed on to the right boot of Defoe, who clipped the ball coolly beyond goalkeeper Samir Handanovic.
Mission accomplished? Not a bit of it. Maribor were an obdurate bunch, ably resisting the home side's frequent surges, and just before half-time they struck with a classic counter-punch. Kyle Naughton, under pressure from Robert Beric, was far too casual in stroking the ball back to goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, and before he could gather his senses the striker had dispossessed him and guided the finish into the empty net.
It was the daftest of errors and for Lloris, given a rare start in goal, not exactly the tonic he required after France coach Didier Deschamps admitted that he was "finding life difficult" in North London. Mercifully for Lloris, the sense of helplessness did not last. While Beric looked energetic in attack for Maribor, Tottenham were the more clinical, and such superiority soon told.
Tom Carroll's delivery was one of which Jack Wilshere would have been proud, directed perfectly between right-back and centre-back and falling at the feet of Defoe, who controlled his strike exquisitely despite the acute angle.
Even better was to come in the 75th minute, as he swept the ball powerfully past Handanovic from Bale's deft cross across the face of goal. The ovation for Defoe, once dubbed 'the little man' by Redknapp, was rapturous.