From the moment the Europa League draw was made Tottenham Hotspur versus Lazio brought one person to mind: Paul Gascoigne, the midfield maestro and one-time clown prince of English football, who represented both clubs with such flair and passion.

Gascoigne was invited to attend here at White Hart Lane but declined on personal grounds and instead was simply remembered in song by both sets of supporters. The spectacle might have benefited from his presence. Instead, a tight, technical and ultimately fractious encounter failed to spark and it was undermined in the second half by more sinister interventions from the Lazio end of the stadium.

As monkey chants were directed at Jermain Defoe, the stand-in captain Aaron Lennon and the substitute Andros Townsend, the action felt increasingly incidental as sense was attempted to be made of the senseless. On the football side, however, Tottenham were left to rue two terrible decisions that denied them what might have been the decisive goal.

In an even first half the home debutant Clint Dempsey timed his run to meet Gareth Bale's cross and direct a stooping header past Federico Marchetti. He was pulled back, though, for offside which, replays showed, was the wrong call from the assistant referee. Dempsey had been level with the last man.

Tottenham took charge in the second half and, after a gaggle of chances, felt they had fashioned the breakthrough from a Bale corner. Stefano Mauri lost his bearings and Steven Caulker rose to power home a towering header. Inexplicably the Romanian referee, Ovidiu Alin Hategan, felt that Caulker had levered himself up illegally. If anything, Mauri had tried to back into him.

Lazio flickered in the first half through Miroslav Klose and rattled the woodwork through Alvaro González's sumptuous volley. But they went into their shells as the tie wore on. If only the minority of their supporters had done likewise. Michel Platini, the Uefa president, was part of the crowd and would surely have felt the discomfort.

It was an evening that promised much but, ultimately, left a hollow feeling. Lazio were true to unforgiving Serie A stereotype; their defending became of the stronger arm variety as the second half progressed and, in injury time, the substitute Ederson crashed late into Kyle Naughton to leave the Tottenham full-back in a heap. He was helped across the field at full-time.

Tottenham remain a work in progress and it was significant to hear the manager, André Villas-Boas, bring up the late completion of the club's summer transfer window business. "You have to understand that our market was done late," he said. "Players are still getting to know each other on the pitch."

When there are so many new faces it is inevitable that an instinctive understanding will be lacking, no matter how meticulously Villas-Boas drills them on the training ground. If Caulker and Naughton were taken into account, both players who spent last season away from Tottenham on loan, Villas-Boas's line-up had six new players.

The Portuguese's style, though, already feels more patient and probing and against Lazio, who played with an extra midfielder and were not as expansive as they have been in Serie A so far this season, it was not a surprise that the tie was cagey.

Bale spurned a clear chance in the 18th minute after Lennon, played in by Defoe, had stood up a cross to the back post. Bale had space but he failed to muster zip on his header and Marchetti had a routine tip-over. The first flash of footballing controversy came when Dempsey flung himself at Bale's cross. The dream goal, though, was ruled out. "I thought I'd opened my account but that's the way it goes, sometimes," he said.

Klose had three sightings of goal in the first half, without any of them being clear-cut. But the moment to illuminate the evening was provided by González on 41 minutes. He swooped on to Jan Vertonghen's clearing header, which lacked distance, and unfurled a magnificent volley that beat the debutant Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris only to rebound off the crossbar.

Tottenham were the better team in the second half and they had the chances. Defoe again slipped Lennon through, to ask another question of his end product and, as Lazio's defenders converged, he felt contact and there was the hint of a penalty. Lennon got up and in the ensuing mêlée, Dempsey tried to force the ball home but Lazio scrambled clear. Sandro directed a free header wide from a Bale free-kick but it was Caulker who came the closest.

"You don't see anything from Caulker to suggest the foul," said Villas-Boas, who has great affection for this competition, which he won with Porto in 2011.

"Mauri is one of the strongest players in the air and Caulker beat him. The disappointment comes from that and obviously Dempsey's goal. Because of mistakes from the referee we could not get the goals that we deserved. But we take the point against a team that has been performing very well in Italy."