Sunday, February 19, 2012

Stevenage 0 Tottenham 0 FA Cup 5th Round

After a fiercely competitive 5th Round tie at Stevenage, Tottenham are grateful to be returning to White Hart Lane for a replay with the winners going through to a home match against Bolton Wanderers.
Stevenage 0 Tottenham Hotspur 0

Team: Cudicini; Dawson, Kaboul, Nelsen; Walker (Kranjcar), Livermore, Parker, Bale, Rose (Lennon); Defoe, Saha  Subs (unused): Friedel, King, Khumalo, Luongo, Dawkins

Tottenham put out a strong team but with concerns over the prospect of facing a barrage of high balls and crosses from Stevenage, they opted for an unfamilar 3 - 5 - 2 formation with three centre backs, Kyle Walker and Danny Rose out wide and Gareth Bale having a roving role in central midfield.  Ryan Nelsen was starting his first match for the club.  Stevenage started with the same side as won at Sheffield Wednesday in midweek which contained both former Spurs reserves, Chris Day in goal and Ronnie Henry at right back.

Stevenage started with a purpose and quickly showed their intention with a series of high balls into the Spurs' box which brought an early challenge on Carlo Cudicini as he came to collect the ball.  Stevenage worked hard and were quicker to the ball, giving the Totttenham players little time to play their usual passing game.  This resulted in Tottenham playing long balls out of defence towards a forward pairing of Jermain Defoe and Louis Saha which saw the ball coming straight back at Spurs.

The first occasion that Spurs created any danger came after sixteen minutes from Rose on the left who put in a low cross to the near post which Defoe touched wide.  Stevenage continued to be first to the ball in midfield and their constant snapping at the heels of Spurs players unsettled them as their passing was poor.  While Stevenage were busy all round the pitch the Spurs central defence coped well and were strong when challenging for the high ball.

The Spurs play, and even the team formation, suggested that much of their focus in preparation had been to cope with the aerial threat that they expected, and received, from Stevenage but had not thought much about how they would use the ball as an attacking force.

On twenty six minutes Saha had a shot across goal but Day was untroubled.  For a short period Totttenham made greater use of their possession by playing it out to Rose on the left who was looking to cause danger but Henry was playing him well.  After thirty three minutes Bale put the ball out to Rose and his cross was headed just over by Walker.  Then Saha was challenged as he prepared to shoot and from a free-kick Defoe's shot was blocked for a corner.

Just as it looked as if Spurs were starting to be more dominant, Stevenage broke from the corner and Tottenham were relieved to get the ball out of their area.  Younes Kaboul had a shot from a free-kick go wide as Stevenage finished the stronger, having a shot blocked for a corner with Michael Dawson putting in a vital clearance from the resulting corner in the last few seconds of the half.

At the start of the second half it appeared that Spurs were going to be more purposeful with sharper passing in midfield and a run from halfway by Bale which ended with a low shot that Day pushed away for a corner, his only save of the game.  After 54 minutes, Spurs had the ball in the net after a cross from Rose caused confusion for the goalkeeper and a defender, allowing Saha to put in a shot which was goalbound but struck Scott Parker on the line before going into the net.  Parker was flagged for being offside.

As time wore on the pitch started to cut up which made passing more difficult and Stevenage had a period around the hour mark when they caused alarm with a number of long range shots.  Rose made a good interception from a dangerous move and tried to set up Defoe.  Walker then put in  a good block on a powerful goalbound shot from the edge of the box, another shot went wide from distance and then with Stevenage's increased industry and endeavour Joe Byrom had two shots in two minutes, shooting over from distance and then a shot straight at Cudicini which he blocked but couldn't hold and Nelsen completed the clearance.

After 65 minutes, Niko Kranjcar replaced Walker and Spurs reverted to 4 - 4 - 2 with Kaboul at right back.  On 74 minutes, after a good run by Defoe, a Bale cross found Saha but his shot was weak.  Aaron Lenon replaced Rose for the last ten minutes with Bale moving to left back.  A dangerous cross from Kranjcar reached to Saha but he was challenged by Henry and the ball was cleared.  There was a good run and cross by Lennon and then following another run a quick passing movement set up Defoe but his weak shot went wide.

Stevenage continued to show commitment and in the final minutes Spurs were very aware that a mistake could see them out of the Cup and were satisfied with a return to White Hart Lane for a 5th Round replay.  Stevenage were thoroughly deserving of that replay as they worked hard throughout and were never overawed by  playing a Premier League side.  They were well prepared and the players and manager deserve all the praise for their efforts and their performance which brought credit to League One. 


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