Tottenham Hotspur warmed up for the north London derby against Arsenal by leaving it late to beat Anderlecht as Belgium international Mousa Dembele's 87th minute strike downed his fellow countryman at White Hart Lane to put his side on course for the Europa League knock-out phase. Harry Kane put the hosts ahead at the break with a snapped shot on the turn but substitute Imoh Ezekiel poked home his second goal for the club to put them on course for a deserved share of the points.
But 14 minutes after replacing Ryan Mason, Dembele smashed home from 25 yards to put Spurs top of Group J, ahead of Ligue 1 side Monaco who were held by Qarabag, and put one foot in the last 32. Anderlecht dominated for long periods either side of half time and but for Hugo Lloris denying Steven Defour from range on two occasions and some desperate defending from the home team they could have claimed their first win in England.
Another positive for Tottenham was the continuation of Kane's return to form with his fifth goal in three appearances - amid another exhausting 90 minutes for the England international - but it was the changes enforced by Mauricio Pochettino which stole the headlines. Son Heung-min made his first appearance since late September, and his combination with Dembele - formerly of Belgian side Germinal Beerschot - eventually proved the difference.
While Spurs' Premier League form, which saw them unbeaten since the opening day of the season, indicated Pochettino had finally struck on a winning formula in his second full season in north London that continuity had yet to be discovered in Europe. Defeat to Anderlecht last time out meant just four points had been yielded from their three group matches to leave their place in the knock-out stage far from secure.
A settled Tottenham side had been disrupted in the build-up to the game by the banishing of Andros Townsend, who after an altercation with fitness coach Nathan Gardiner had been dropped from the squad without any guarantees over his return. Nevertheless, the home side were stronger for his absence with Pochettino naming an admirably strong side three days before facing Arsenal for the visit of the 33-time Belgian champions who after coming from behind to beat the Premier League side a fortnight ago were confident of claiming a first ever win on English shores after 13 previous failures.
Besnik Hasi's side was bathed with players previously linked with moves to the English top flight, with Andy Najar, Defour and Youri Tielemans all included and though they had been dethroned as league champions last season the infamous defeat in the 1984 Uefa Cup final between these sides again provided adequate motivation. And in the opening minutes Anderlecht picked up from where they left off following their 2-1 win at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium with a furry of chances.
Match-winner from the first game Stefano Okaka was the central threat and twice he ran in behind in the opening minutes, with cover tackles from Toby Alderweireld and Kieran Trippier required to keep the scores level. The ex-Fulham and Portsmouth loanee was becoming an increasingly elusive figure and he sprung free to set up Defour and Tielemans in successive attacks, with Lloris forced to keep out the former with a flying save.
Okaka was at the epicentre of every Anderlecht break and after receiving Frank Acheampong's flicked pass he created a chance for himself by turning past Jan Vertonghen but Ben Davies came to the rescue with a desperate block. The visitors' lack of a finishing touch would soon return to haunt them however as a lacklustre Tottenham illuminated their first half performance with the opening goal.
Mason and Christian Eriksen combined to feed Kane who turned instinctively and slammed the ball low past Silvio Proto, whose first involvement saw him suffer the ignominy of picking the ball out of his own net. Kane's first Europa League goal for a day short of a year may have been less than the home side deserved but it did work to spark an improved performance through to half time following a sloppy opening 45 minutes.
The second half began much like the first with Anderlecht launching wave after wave of attacks on the break. Olivier Deschacht cut inside to lash over the bar before Lloris' overstretched arm denied Defour. The home side responded by bringing Son on for his first appearance for six weeks and the South Korean almost had a hand in a second goal but Davies' was denied his first for his new club by the crossbar.
Anderlecht made a change of their own in bringing on Ezekiel and three minutes later the move paid dividends with a deserved equaliser. Defour's shot-come-cross bounced wickedly in the Tottenham box and Ezekiel pounce to poke home in off the post to put the away side on course for a point.
However, it would be one of their own who would have the last laugh to thrust Tottenham on the brink of the last 32. Some neat interplay on the edge of the Anderlecht saw Son tee up Dembele who smashed the ball into the top corner to end an uncertain performance with a crucial win.