Tottenham Hotspur lost the FA Cup semi-final 5-1 to Chelsea, a score which flattered the victors in a match that will be probably be remembered for one of the worst refereeing decisions Wembley has seen courtesy of Martin Atkinson.
The first 20 minutes of the match were quite frenetic, with midfield congestion meaning that neither team controlled the ball and possession frequently changed hands. From then onwards, Spurs started to look the more dominant team. Gareth Bale was creating problems for Jose Bosingwa, Aaron Lennon looked lively and Tottenham were threatening the Chelsea area without finding the final killer ball. The only threat to Spurs came in the 28th minute when Juan Mata failed to get on the end of a Chelsea break. Chelsea were looking uncomfortable but in the 40th minute their defence played the ball forward. The ball was collected by Didier Drogba who despite being turned away from goal by William Gallas, got off a powerful shot to beat Cudicini.
The second-half was only two minutes in when Chelsea were awarded a phantom goal by referee Atkinson. John Terry launched himself after the ball had been partially cleared, Mata’s follow-up shot was cleared by Benoit Assou-Ekoto, assisted by Terry lying prone across the goal line. The ball was a foot in front of the line. Atkinson awarded the goal but even the Chelsea players later admitted the ball never crossed the line.
This galvanized Spurs, who pulled a goal back through Bale nine minutes later. Again there was refereeing controversy. Petr Cech brought Emmanuel Adebayor down in the area and the ball rolled to Bale who slotted home. If he hadn’t Spurs would have had a penalty and Chelsea 10 men. The law of the game says a red card cannot be awarded for anything other than violent conduct once the advantage has been played, but a yellow can and likely should have been.
The next crucial decision came 20 minutes later. Harry Redknapp sent on Jermain Defoe for van der Vaart and Spurs, having played 4-4-1-1 reverted to a 4-4-2, the formation acknowledged by Redknapp after the Norwich defeat to have left Spurs wide open, and the decision to go back to 4-4-2 may have cost the game here.
In the hole van der Vaart linked between the midfield and Adebayor. His positioning meant the midfield, particularly Luka Modric, had an extra outlet for their short passing game and kept the Chelsea defence busy. Spurs were in the match and with 15 minutes to go, had time for an equalizer. By bringing on Defoe, the midfield lost an outlet, a crucial link forward and allowed John Obi Mikel to push on to Modric and Scott Parker, leaving Spurs outnumbered in centre midfield.
Spurs may have been adjusting to the change when, immediately following the substitution, a Mata flick sent Ramires through to make the score 3-1. Chelsea exploited the gaps in midfield, scoring two more goals via Frank Lampard and Florent Malouda, either side of a bit of handbags between Parker and Obi Mikel following a kick by the latter.
To say Tottenham should feel hard done by may be an understatement. Spurs may not have gone on to win, but the match would certainly have evolved differently but for the phantom goal decision. However, the change to 4-4-2 may have been crucial.
The question is now whether Redknapp can pick Spurs up for their remaining league fixtures. Noted for being a man manager, Redknapp needs to use all his experience to bring Spurs home in a Champions League position.
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