Spurs 3 Stevenage 1
Well that wasn't exactly the swashbuckle smash'em display I had in mind. We asserted ourselves in the end but it felt like a walk through marshlands in a downpour, losing both boots in the mud, because we left the keys in the car and forgot about having a spare set in our back pocket all along.
The team we put out was easily strong enough to beat Stevenage. Didn't quite work out 'easily'. They defended deep, we had plenty of possession but not much in the way of sustained pressure. No injection of pace and tempo. No authority. Very little spark in offensive positions. But never really in trouble even if they happened to trouble us with pockets of effort. Subdued in part.
All this compounded after the visitors took the lead in the 2nd minute through a penalty. Nelsen slow with the tackle. He's better with his head than he is with his feet. They almost went 2-0 up after some poor defending (mark your man damn it) from a free kick which ironically lead to Bale and a 50 yarder finding Defoe who finished superbly for the equaliser. Joy! It's alive!
Then it went dead again.
Dawson went off (Walker on) injured and is out long term (ruptured ankle ligaments and he's done his knee in as well). Absolutely no luck that lad and I'm gutted for him. Lennon (hamstring) also lost to a first half brace of injuries (replaced by Adebayor). Brilliant preparation for Goodison Park.
Second half was an improvement. Which was always on the cards thanks to the low standards set in the first. Walker and van der Vaart working the right wing with intent. Bale was effective and at times befriended his old mate the left wing. JD had a goal disallowed (right decision) which was a shame because it was lovely. Other highlights included Bale smashing the ball onto the crossbar and van der Vaart taking a class corner (that might end up with its own DVD it's that rare) which was flicked on by Bale (no one on the end of it - no DVD then). In amongst all this glamour football was a penalty, for us this time. Gareth fouled in the box, Adebayor making it 2-1. I was getting excited now. Not because of this match (watched via an internet stream) but because Messi was on his way to a 5 goal haul in the Champions League. Multi-tasking with the viewing.
We made it 3-1 (that rubbish Welsh winger-come-Ronaldo-come-Stoke) with his third assist. This one via his hands to Defoe who scored a brilliant second finishing with some pomp to finally settle the game. If anyone had any lingering doubts we'd balls it up, a sigh of relief stated 'Calm down and support your team'. Defoe proving he's full of confidence but the arguments that he still struggles to fulfil other team duties will rage on and into the weekend when we wait to see if we go 442 or bench JD and start with Adebayor.
We need to make sure our set pieces (taking and defending) improves vastly for the remaining games.
Stevenage, to their credit, still gave it a go. At 1-1 Cudicini saved point-blank from Roberts who also had another chance cleared off the line. Cudicini was kept busy once or twice, mainly thanks to some shabby back four defending. They had one or two other efforts on goal. Didn't make for comfortable viewing.
We got the job done, but Christ it was hard work. Hindsight is yelling something about how we wouldn't have required this replay had we played our strongest possible side in the first game.
Although all this might read quite harshly, I do appreciate the fact that the players probably knew and believed they would win the game without exerting themselves at full pelt and were not that bothered with wasting fuel on this game what with the desire to end our two-game Prem crisis in a few days time. No Luka and a make shift defence doesn't bode well for momentum but we'll be fair more structured and balanced next time round. A win is a win and the squad rotation worked even if we went round the houses to see it unfold positively. Perhaps the want for something special pre-match masked that a little.
I know it's three unconvincing performances. The NLD was woeful. Utd at home was a mugging (aided by incompetence from us). This game, does it really count because of the line-up? Or do we bunch it in with the other two and start to show concern for morale? Because regardless of the line-up we should have been far more convincing and despatched them with that missing relative ease. The real test is the Everton game. There's got to be hunger and there's got to be guile and above all some intensity.
Guess we should remind ourselves that the standard we've set this season is very high. Anything below that standard almost feels like we've lost our mojo. Look behind the sofa Harry, guaranteed to be there.
Bolton at the Lane in the 6th round. We'll have to be full strength for that one what with it being a game away from a semi-final. With Everton at the weekend, I appreciate that players had to be rested. I'm also not going to lose any sleep about the injuries (although as mentioned, really want to hug Dawson and tell him everything will be alright). Fact is, Tottenham are no strangers to doing it the hard way and if it's bare bones that the footballing Gods wish to bestow on us, then so be it.