Tottenham must put aside Wembley heartache in pursuit of Europe


Piquionne 99, Boateng (pen) 117

Portsmouth today secured one of the great FA Cup giantkillings of recent time, with a 2-0 semi-final win after extra-time against game favourites Tottenham Hotspur, booking their return date to Wembley at the season end where they will meet Chelsea. If you wanted to have a bet on a Pompey victory, you would have been offered odds of 10/1, compared to 3/10 for backing Spurs. As so often is the case in the FA Cup, form went out of the window as the crisis club stunned 5th-place Spurs.

After a very disappointing and unexpected defeat last weekend away to Sunderland, this FA Cup semi-final promised to be the game that would re-install confidence back into the Tottenham dressing room ahead of what will be their most challenging spell of the season, as they aim to secure Champions League football next season. However, 120 minutes were not enough to get even one goal, despite a large share of possession and a number of good opportunities. It would be tempting to say the wheels have come off their season, and that everyone knew they would not last the pace, two opinions that have been offered at times throughout the season, as yet without any real justification.

But once the dust settles on the Wembley defeat, a real analysis of the game should show that the season is far from over, and that performance levels have not dropped as much as some would have you believe. Harry Redknapp’s side had control of much of the game, and the main danger from Portsmouth came on the counter-attack. Tottenham still played their game, with Gareth Bale and Vedran Corluka creating numerous chances for Roman Pavyluchenko and Peter Crouch in particular.

Among the “what ifs” will be a ruled out Crouch goal, and a dubious penalty for Pompey’s second. On another day the scoreline could easily have been different, but a panicked reaction to a game that was 0-0 after 90 minutes will not help preparation for the Arsenal derby. A regroup is needed to brush off a painful cup defeat, and Redknapp will be keen to remind his players they are only four points off a Champions League place with a game in hand, and the battle between Spurs and the in-form Manchester City must now begin in earnest.

If Tottenham win their two games in hand over 6th-place Liverpool, they will go eight points clear and cut the race for fourth to themselves and City. Both have a difficult run-in, City facing Manchester United, Arsenal, Aston Villa, and of course Tottenham. Spurs have to play Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United in the space of 10 days, starting Wednesday, followed by the Champions League “six-pointer” against Manchester City on May 5.

The poor performance at Sunderland and the disappointing result against Portsmouth are best forgotten now, and the confidence these players should have after an excellent season should come back to the forefront in time to face a humbled Arsenal. If they can put these two matches behind them, they are still the side that had won five league matches in a row beforehand, and will be boosted by the likely return of Aaron Lennon. With the ace in their pack returning, it is time for Spurs to show their cards and prove their Champions League credentials.

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