At quarter to six on Sunday evening, it looked like the odds on Spurs winning the Cup in a year ending in zero were greatly improved. Manchester United had crashed out somewhat embarrassingly to League One Leeds, their old cross-Pennines foe. Liverpool had a potential banana skin of a replay with Reading. Arsenal were losing at West Ham. Spurs’ rivals looked to be dropping one by one. Two quick fire goals from the Gunners later and things look a bit different. Surely Liverpool won’t follow United in going out to lower division opposition?
Talk of winning the Cup is all a bit academic at this stage. The important thing is Spurs are in the draw for the next round. A home tie with Peterborough was never going to be tricky on paper, but football has never been played on paper. As Rafa Benitez and Sir Alex Ferguson’s sides found out, underdogs have nothing to lose and everything to gain by coming out fighting. Harry Redknapp’s team were somewhat better prepared and eased to victory. This is how you go about progressing in the Cup.
An injury to Aaron Lennon made the dilemma discussed last week in this column easier. With Luka Modric fit again and Niko Kranjcar on fire, Redknapp would have had to either choose between them or rework his system to accommodate the two creative Croatians. With Lennon absent, Redknapp could safely field both. The pair combined to great effect as Kranjcar collected Modric’s pass before unleashing a peach of a strike from distance that flew in to the top corner. His second goal after the break was the second time he has notched two goals in the last two and a half weeks. When Kranjcar signed from Portsmouth on deadline day for just £2.5m, it was easy to be underwhelmed by his arrival. Top quality players are not usually allowed to leave so cheaply. How Portsmouth must wish they still had him to sell as on this form he would pull in much more money for their troublesome bank accounts.
Gareth Bale was always likely to start with Benoit Assou-Ekotto due to be at the African Nations Cup but the Cameroonian was instead absent with an injury that prevented him from joining up with his country. Bale can only benefit from a run in the side after having his progress stunted since joining the club. The added pressure of performing at a top side like Tottenham rather than in the Championship with Southampton as he was previously doing can be a lot to shoulder for a young player, however promising. Bale has the attacking ingredients to be up there with the likes of Ashley Cole and Patrice Evra. What he now needs to concentrate on is the defensive side of his game but a bright future beckons. Two assists in this match will have helped no end with his confidence, and with a bit of luck Assou-Ekotto will have a fight to get his previously assured place back when fit.
Despite naming a very strong line-up, Redknapp took the opportunity to give some minutes to youngster Danny Rose as a substitute. Those that follow the Spurs academy will know that Rose has endured a frustrating time since joining from Leeds in the summer of 2007 due to injuries but he is a promising talent capped by England at Under-21 level. He has already spent time on loan in the Championship at two clubs, with Watford last season and Peterborough this footballing year. Having played for his country in the European Under-21 Championship in Sweden during the summer, he is already used to the pressures of big matches and he looked confident when brought on against his recent employers on Saturday. It was Rose who was fouled deep in to injury time to win the penalty that Robbie Keane tucked away, giving the scoreline an emphatic feel.
As ball number one in the draw for the next round, Spurs had to wait until the end to come out of the hat. A home tie against the third round’s biggest surprise act Leeds is next up, and Tottenham will need to channel the assuredness and professionalism of their performance against Posh to ensure they do not go the way of the Red Devils. It is unlikely that Redknapp would risk blowing fourth in the league to win the FA Cup this year as the Champions League is the Holy Grail for the club. It is still early enough in the season for Redknapp to feel confident juggling both tournaments and so it can be expected that Spurs will not take Simon Grayson’s team lightly and a repeat of Saturday’s showing will likely be on the menu, even if Leeds prove a tougher proposition.