Two late Richarlison headers were enough for Tottenham to earn three points in their UEFA Champions League opener after it seemed for most of the night that it would be a frustrating start to their campaign.
After Marseille made a solid impression throughout the first half, a red card for Chancel Mbemba in the first few minutes after the restart was a serious blow to their hopes of a result.
The hosts still struggled to make any serious ground towards getting an opening goal. It took Tottenham until the 76th minute to have their first shot on target of the game. Fortunately for them, that was enough for Richarlison to get that much-needed goal. The Brazilian's header, after Ivan Perisic's cross, managed to sneak past Pau Lopez and alleviate the growing concern amongst the home crowd.
With Marseille down to ten men, it seemed as if the one goal would be enough for Tottenham to get the three points. But just to make sure, it was Richarlison who doubled his own and his team's tally, with another header just five minutes later.
With this result, Tottenham and Sporting Lisbon were the two winners in Group D and give themselves a three-point gap to protect over Marseille and Eintracht Frankfurt.
Story of the match
On their return to the Champions League after a two-season absence, Tottenham made just one change from their weekend win against Fulham. Perisic returned to take the left wing-back spot from Ryan Sessegnon.
For Marseille, four changes were made to their team, which saw some familiar faces return to North London. Eric Bailly, Samuel Gigot, and former Arsenal players Nuno Tavares and Matteo Guendouzi came into the side, which most recently triumphed at Auxerre.
Both teams are enjoying an unbeaten start to their domestic league campaigns and would have been aiming for qualification from a very competitive Group D. Elsewhere in the group, Sporting Lisbon won at Eintracht Frankfurt, in the early kick-off.
It was an even start to the game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Without much in the way of chances, the visitors settled into the game nicely, having slightly more of the ball in the first ten minutes.
Former Marseille player, Joey Barton, was pictured amongst the supporters in the away end, cheering on his former team. He and the rest of the travelling support would have been very satisfied with what they were seeing early on.
A poor corner from Heung-min Son, shortly followed by an inaccurate diagonal towards him from Christian Romero symbolised the low-quality start from the home side.
A decent low long-range effort from Tavares ended up just wide of Hugo Lloris' near post on the 20-minute mark. Up until that point, there was very little from the Tottenham side to encourage an expectant home crowd.
There were very audible boos towards the other former Arsenal player - Guendouzi, whenever he was on the ball. Richarlison's late tackle on the midfielder drew some cheers from the fans - a rare positive moment in the game for the home support.
A rare moment of action for Lopez, in the Marseille goal, led to an innocuous collision with Harry Kane - causing a nasty-looking knock on the eye for the keeper. With a few spots of blood on the Spaniard's eyelid visible, it fortunately wasn't anything serious enough to prevent him from continuing.
As the game ticked past the half-hour mark, Marseille's solid start to the game continued. With 57% possession, they would have felt much more encouraged by the fact that neither team could manage a shot on goal. Guendouzi attempted to correct that statistic - but his solid strike from range was met by a Tottenham defender's head.
Three blocked shots in the space of half a minute, the last of which from Kane, were the result of one of the few times where Tottenham was provided with some freedom to reach Marseille's third of the pitch.
Kane had his first opening of the game in the 40th minute. One of the rare occasions, when Marseille were unable to deal with Son's runs in behind their backline, led to the South Korean playing in his strike partner. On the right side of the goal, with a defender ahead of him to beat, Kane opted to try and pick out the far post with a side-footed effort. The shot was dragged just too far wide.
Marseille responded shortly after, with Gerson's lofted ball over the host's backline allowing Nuno Tavares the opportunity to fire a dangerous ball across the box with his first touch. However, the wing-back was unable to make solid contact with the ball.
During the one minute of added time, we finally saw the first shot on goal of the game. Guendouzi - one of the standout players of the half, had his shot from outside of the box comfortably parried by Lloris.
Tottenham, who usually look so dangerous with their fast transitions from defence into attack, were completely unable to impose themselves on Marseille. The visitors headed into the break full of confidence with their first half display, as they looked good value to take a positive result home from London.
Red card gives Tottenham a much-needed boost
The start to the second half was a demonstration of how quickly and from out of the blue a football match can change. A one-two between Kane and Son led to the latter being put through into a race against Mbemba. It was a race in which the defender lost and his sliding tackle led to him taking down Son, just outside of the box and receiving a red card.
There couldn't be too much debate about the decision. Even though the challenge was made just to the right of the goal, rather than in a central position, it did deny Son a clear, goalscoring opportunity.
Subsequently, the hosts would have seen their chances of earning a win increase significantly after what was a disappointing first half. Kane's free-kick from Mbemba's foul was wayward, as was a scuffed attempt from Son, soon after.
Marseille's prior control of the ball, expectantly, disappeared with them going down a man. Just after the ten-minute mark of the second half, the half's possession figure read 73-27% in favour of the hosts.
The visitors were still very much determined to fight for a result in the second half. Before the introduction of Dejan Kulusevski for the hosts, in the 61st minute, they were doing a good job of blunting Tottenham's attempts at creating significant chances. Kulusevski replaced Emerson Royal - giving an extra dose of attacking threat to the hosts.
Perisic found himself on the end of a pinpoint long ball from Romero, soon after the change. The Croat could have seen himself through on goal, but his first touch let him down and the danger was averted. Kulusevski's direct run and cross after the resulting short corner indicated a good start to his night.
Even with the boost of the early second-half red card for Mbemba, Tottenham wasn't looking too close to getting a much-needed opening goal. Another former Arsenal man, Kolasinac, came on for Marseille, who were 20 minutes away from earning an important away point.
The introductions of Ben Davies and Japhet Tanganga came in the 72nd minute, when, remarkably, Tottenham were still yet to register a shot on target.
Richarlison rallies Spurs
The first shot on target came just a few minutes after - Tottenham's 13th shot of the night. Perisic shifted the ball onto his right foot, down the left wing and found the space to put a cross into the box. Richarlison - completely unmarked, got decent contact onto the ball and his header had too much power for Lopez to keep the ball out of the net. On second viewing, the keeper could certainly have done better to keep out the effort.
Just five minutes later, Richarlison was the hero for the hosts, again. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg's cross from the left wing found the Brazilian, agian, at the far post. This time, his glancing header was placed even better, as it rippled the back of the net, after a deflection off the post.
The last few minutes were played out to a fairly subdued tone. Marseille knew that their race was run, being down to ten men left them with no hope of getting a double strike of their own. A remarkable, diving, head-first block from Davies in the last minute of added time ensured that Tottenham kept a clean sheet.
As such, the hosts got their Champions League campaign off to a winning start. It wasn't a pretty performance by any stretch of the imagination, but as they often do, Tottenham found a way to win under Antonio Conte.
Player of the match - Richarlison
The hero of the night in North London. In his first European appearance, he was able to turn the match in Tottenham's favour, just as it seemed it was heading towards a frustrating conclusion for them.
He embraced his family after full-time and shed a tear, in what was an emotional moment for Tottenham's summer signing.
With the form of Son this season continuing to be a concern for Spurs, the Brazilian may see his game-time continuing to increase. He has already made a strong impression with his arrival and has the potential to become an important player for Tottenham in many seasons to come.