Unconvincing Spurs get the job done early

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Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Middlesbrough

EARLY GOALS from Giovani Lo Celso and Erik Lamela ensured Tottenham’s Emirates FA Cup progress at Middlesbrough’s expense. But Jonathan Woodgate’s Championship side ensure the North Londoners an uncomfortable ride before they booked their passage into the next round.

Despite encouraging signs from his erratic side during Saturday’s narrow defeat to Premier League leaders, Liverpool, Jose Mourinho was fully aware that in-form Middlesbrough held a considerable threat. Nevertheless, the Portuguese chief – who had lifted the cup during his initial spell at Chelsea – was more alarmed that his present employers hadn’t tasted success in the competition since 1991.

“I am surprised! Yes, I am a little bit,” he explained.

“So many years, so many good teams that Tottenham had over the years but I also know that it’s a very difficult competition to win because everybody wants to win it.

“It’s a beautiful, beautiful competition to play in, a beautiful final to play and to win and I think every top team tries to do it.”

Lucas Moura had cancelled out Ashley Fletcher’s opener in the initial tie at the Riverside Stadium, setting the scene for an N17 replay. And on a wet, blustery night where ‘Storm Brendan’ was the main cause of concern for those making their way to the match – Tottenham made a lightning start.

Lo Celso seized on a wayward clearance from Tomas Mejias – the Argentine steadied himself, before comfortably dispatching, left-footed, beyond the stricken Boro stopper. Barely two minutes had been played.

Spurs largely dominated the early exchanges. However, keeper, Paulo Gazzaniga, was forced to dirty his gloves, dealing with a close-range attempt from Lukas Nmecha. But within seconds the Championship side found themselves further behind – Lamela waltzing through a static rearguard before prodding past Mejias, much to the approval of the home crowd.

Indeed, had it been a boxing match, Boro were already on the ropes. Lo Celso, Eric Dier and Ryan Sessegnon all went close to adding a third before the half-hour mark. Meanwhile, Boro’s best opportunity was blazed horribly high over by Paddy McNair.

Lucas Moura was a whisker away after another swift raid involving Lamela as Spurs looked to finish the half as they had started it.

Gazzaniga saved Lewis Wing’s troublesome dead-ball effort at the foot of a post, while Nmecha nodded over a Marvin Johnson flag-kick as Boro – perhaps realising they were in the last chance saloon – probed for a foothold.

Substitute, George Saville, saw his deflected strike from distance clip the top of the bar, but clear-cut chances came at a premium for the Teessiders – Spurs, now not nearly as efficient and ruthless as they had been earlier in the tie – remained firmly in control. Christian Eriksen could only look on as Mejias clawed out what might have been a parting gift from the Dane to the home crowd.

But Middlesbrough’s persistence was to be rewarded. Saville expertly arrowed low past Gazzaniga, sending 5,000 travelling fans into raptures and potentially setting up a grandstand finish.

But despite the uncomfortable ending for the North Londoners, Middlesbrough – like Storm Brendan – didn’t posses enough to blow Spurs off course. Mourinho’s men now head to Southampton in the fourth round. They will need to go through the gears considerably smoother than they did on this occasion if their Wembley ambitions are to be realised come the end of the campaign.

Tottenham Hotspur return to Premier League action on Saturday, January 18 when they take on Watford at Vicarage Road (12:30pm).

Tottenham Hotspur: Paulo Gazzaniga, Jan Vertonghen (Capt), Davinson Sanchez, Harry Winks, Erik Lamela, Eric Dier (Dele Alli 85’), Giovani Lo Celso, Ryan Sessegnon, Christian Eriksen, Lucas Moura (Heung-Min Son 61’), Japhet Tanganga Subs not used: Michel Vorm (GK), Juan Foyth, Serge Auirier, Oliver Skipp, Dennis Cirkin

Booked: None
Goals: Giovani Lo Celso 2, Erik Lamela 16’

Middlesbrough: Tomas Mejias, Dael Fry, Adam Clayton, Ashley Fletcher, Jonny Howson (Capt), Paddy McNair, Lukas Nmecha (Rudy Gestede 78’), Marvin Johnson, Lewis Wing, Djed Spence (Marcus Tavernier 75’), Ben Liddle (George Saville 58’) Subs not used: Sol Brynn (GK), Patrick Roberts, Nathan Wood, Connor Malley

Booked: None
Goals: George Saville 83’

Referee: Craig Pawson
Assistants: Nick Hopton and Adam Nunn
Fourth Official: Gavin Ward

Attendance: 49,202

Reaction to follow….

Brian Jeeves

Email: [email protected]

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