Tuesday 14th January 2020


Spurs 2 Middlesbrough 1

For 45 minutes, an unwanted FA Cup replay looked like being the perfect tonic for Jose Mourinho’s stuttering Tottenham – but a late fightback from Middlesbrough will have concerned the Portuguese, even as his side progressed to the fourth-round with a 2-1 win on Tuesday.

A draw at Riverside on January 5 was an unwelcome outcome for Mourinho’s injury-hit squad, particularly given the Portuguese’s regular complaints about a lack of time to work with his players in training. But the Spurs manager will take positives from the re-match, not least valuable minutes in the legs of goal-scorers Giovani Lo Celso and Erik Lamela, who impressed.

The worry, as ever, was another shaky defensive performance, particularly from Davinson Sanchez and Japhet Tanganga, as George Saville’s late strike denied Mourinho only a second clean sheet in 14 matches in charge.


Boro’s limited first-half resistance on manager Jonathan Woodgate’s return to his former club ultimately saw Spurs book a fourth-round visit to Southampton, where they lost on New Year’s Day, on Saturday week.
Before the original clash, Mourinho revealed he had been inspired as a teenager by Ricky Villa’s brilliant solo goal in the 1981 FA Cup Final replay and it was his own Argentine playmakers who shone with cool finishes in the opening 15 minutes.

Lamela and Lo Celso were among five changes from the defeat to Liverpool which, while encouraging, left Mourinho with one win in his previous six matches. Jan Vertonghen, Eric Dier and Ryan Sessegnon also came in, with the latter in an advanced left-back role and 20-year-old Tanganga on the opposite flank, having impressed on his league debut on Saturday.
Lamela and Lo Celso had driven the side on after coming on for the final 20 minutes against Jurgen Klopp’s champions-elect and the latter should really have equalised on Saturday with a golden late chance.


If he was still stewing over that costly miss, Lo Celso did not have long to wait to make amends as he gave Spurs the lead following a gift by Mourinho’s former Real Madrid goalkeeper Tomas Mejias. Under pressure from Sessegnon, the Spaniard’s weak pass was intercepted by Lo Celso and the playmaker stepped inside to finish with a side-foot. The clock showed 1.56 seconds.
With Christian Eriksen also keeping his place behind auxiliary striker Lucas Moura, Spurs had no shortage of creativity but their defence continued to look vulnerable. Sanchez, impressive at the weekend, was particularly creaky and the visitors nearly equalised when the Colombian’s poor pass left Vertonghen in trouble, and Man City loanee Lukas Nmecha – making his first Boro start – forced a save from Paulo Gazzaniga after turning Tanganga.

It was Boro who were to gift-wrap another goal on 15 minutes, when captain Jonny Howson was robbed by Lamela, who burst pass two defenders and finished with the outside of his boot.
Sensing their technical superiority (and perhaps Spurs’ rich history of standout Argentinians in this competition), Lamela and Lo Celso began to take charge. Lamela fired over the bar and then played a one-two with Sessegnon, who fired just wide. On the opposite flank, Lo Celso and Tanganga combined, with the full-back an inch from his first Spurs goal with an effort beyond the far post.


Eriksen, criticised by Mourinho for his performance against Liverpool, threatened to get in on the act with a low free-kick, gathered by the twitchy Mejias.

After a passive first half, Woodgate would surely have fired-up his rotated side at the interval and Boro returned with renewed fight.

Lewis Wing, who had spent much of the first 45 chasing shadows, tested Gazzaniga with an impressive free-kick after Tanganga had handled and impressive right-back Djed Spence – a target for Spurs – helped Boro to earn a foothold down the flanks.

Sensing his side’s chances, Woodgate introduced George Saville, Marcus Tavernier and Rudy Gestede for the final 15 minutes and, even as Spurs’ threat on the counter-attack remained, Boro looked increasingly dangerous.

Saville, who impressed at the Riverside, came close with a 25-yard effort that skimmed the crossbar after 75 minutes and, when Boro’s goal came, it was predictably Sanchez at fault.

The Colombian had just shanked a cross out of play, prompting Mourinho to return to the bench with his head in his hands, and on 83 minutes he failed to deal with a high ball under pressure from Gestede. Sanchez’s header fell kindly for Saville and Tanganga offered no resistance as the midfielder fired low into the far corner past a despairing Gazzaniga.
Boro had another chance to equalise through Ashley Fletcher’s downward header but Spurs should really have wrapped up the win on the counter-attack, only for sub Dele Alli to fail to find a teammate.

Mourinho was left breathing a sign of relief at the final whistle, safe in the knowledge that Spurs remain in with a chance of winning the FA Cup for the first time since 1991. But familiar defensive problems remain for the manager, with a tricky trip to Watford to come on Saturday.


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