Antonio Conte hailed Tottenham’s “big character” as they staged a thrilling fightback to draw 2-2 at Brentford as the Premier League returned in style on Monday after the World Cup break.
In the first Premier League fixture since mid-November, Conte’s side were in danger of a damaging defeat after Vitaly Janelt and Ivan Toney put Brentford in command at the Community Stadium.
But Harry Kane netted to start the Tottenham recovery in his first game since missing a crucial penalty in England’s World Cup quarter-final defeat against France.
Brentford have not beaten Tottenham since 1948 and their long wait for a victory over the north Londoners goes on after Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg equalised with 19 minutes left.
The gripping drama might not have had quite the high stakes of Argentina’s penalty shoot-out victory against France in the World Cup final but Tottenham’s spirited escape act underlined why the English top-flight remains the world’s preeminent domestic league.
“My assessment about the second part of the game was really good. It was an exciting game. I like to win every time but I know very well it is not possible,” Conte said.
“To have another comeback is positive but on the other hand we need to be more stable.
“Since last season we have made a good step. Now we have to continue to push ourselves. It is not easy. We have shown big character.”
Tottenham stay fourth in the table, four points ahead of fifth-placed Manchester United in the race to qualify for the Champions League.
Among the other matches later on Monday, leaders Arsenal host London rivals West Ham, Liverpool travel to Aston Villa and third-placed Newcastle face Leicester.
Tottenham had conceded 11 goals in their previous five league games and they shipped another one after just 15 minutes in west London.
Tottenham keeper Hugo Lloris was rested following France’s World Cup final loss, so Fraser Forster started in goal.
Forster’s Tottenham league debut got off to a rocky start as he weakly pushed Mathias Jensen’s volley straight to German midfielder Janelt, who bundled home from close-range.
For a ninth successive game in all competitions, Conte’s men had conceded the opening goal.
Kane appealed in vain for a penalty when he went down after a clear tug from Ben Mee early in the second half.
Tottenham’s angst deepened when they were punished for more sloppy defending in the 54th minute.
Toney, who was overlooked as a possible understudy for Kane in England’s World Cup squad, was starting for Brentford despite the Football Association gambling charges hanging over him.
The 26-year-old has been charged with 262 alleged breaches of betting rules but he appeared unfazed by the controversy.
Eric Dier’s miskicked clearance conceded a corner and from the set-piece, the unmarked Toney poked home from inside the six yard box after Christian Norgaard nodded on.
With Tottenham in disarray, an immediate response was required and Kane delivered in the 65th minute.
Clement Lenglet’s pin-point cross picked out the England captain and he rose to power his header into the far corner.
It was Kane’s 196th Premier League goal but his first against Brentford which means he has now scored against all 32 teams he has played against in the league.
Bryan Mbeumo should have restored Brentford’s two-goal cushion moments later but he shot over from close-range.
It proved a crucial miss as Hojbjerg capped Tottenham’s fightback with a fine, curling finish in the 71st minute.
In a frantic finale, Tottenham were incensed when their penalty appeals for a handball were rejected just before Kane shot wide.
Kane was inches away from winning it in the final minutes but his header cannoned back off the crossbar.