|TUESDAY 14 JANUARY 2019|
|Lo Celso (2)
SHOTS (on target)
Spurs take two!
A busy schedule in the smoke this week for Boro commenced this evening with Spurs in the Cup. A 1-1 draw at the Riverside just over a week ago saw the two sides lock horns again after Lucas Moura had headed home an equaliser for the Premiership side. As is typical for this time of year and indeed almost fashionable both sides had a long list of the injured and walking wounded. Mourinho announced that Hugo Lloris (elbow), Ben Davies (ankle), Tanguy Ndombele (hip), Moussa Sissoko (knee) and Harry Kane (hamstring) would all be absent for tonight’s event. His limited options he alleged were at bare bones level, declaring that only Toby Alderweireld could be rested from his first team squad.
Previously Mourinho had comically asked if Boro would consider playing their reserve team for tonight’s game. He was clearly unaware that the players selected and those who had made the Boro bench last time out were in fact the Academy side with a remaining handful of fit first teamers. Woodgate did have slim hopes that Britt Assombalonga might have been fit enough to travel but unfortunately unlike limbo victim Darren Randolph he remained at Rockliffe to linger just a little longer. Positively, neither side had any fresh injury concerns, Spurs after their Home defeat to runway Champions elect Liverpool and Boro to Rooney’s raiding Rams at the weekend.
Spurs were last beaten at home by a lower league side in the FA Cup in 1975 (by Forest) so the omens pre kick off were not exactly on Boro’s side for this replay. On the positive they had kept just one clean sheet since Mourinho took over so Boro would be hopeful of registering a few shots on target at least. Despite Randolph travelling Woodgate had already announced that Mejias would be between the sticks again for Boro so perhaps he would be a lucky charm after his previous cup exploits with Boro.
Boro had a few surprises in the team and a shock start for Ben Liddle with Woodgate clearly deciding that Friday nights upcoming game with Fulham was of greater importance. Mejias was in for Pears and Nmecha for Tavernier. Johnson came in at Left Wing Back for Coulson. Mourinho had made five changes himself
Boro won the toss and changed ends leaving Spurs to Kick off. The game started off with Spurs teasing and Boro sitting deep looking for breaks. A simple back pass to Mejias to clear saw the stand in Keeper caught in two minds inviting trouble and instead of booting it clear he passed it weakly to Johnson and invitingly into the path of Lo Celso who slipped it past the errant Keeper. Less than two minutes gone and Boro were one down due to their own failings. Those leaking pre match reports that the Randolph to the Hammers deal off was suddenly looking like it could be good news on reflection.
Boro kept their cool, clearing heads, keeping it tight and sitting off their opponents, trying to put their opening nightmare behind them. Spence chased forward closing down Winks on the edge of the Spurs box in what was the most spirited Boro offering in the opening eight minutes. A Clayton chipped lob chased by Fletcher saw Sanchez head back to Gazzaniga in an anxious moment for the Spurs defence on ten minutes.
A well worked ball by Spence, advancing, taking on three defenders after a sloppy Sanchez ball was slotted through for Nmecha who forced Gazzaniga to get down low to save and keep the slender margin for the home side intact. Psychologically it was a big boost to Boro and a nervy warning to Spurs that they could be undone. On fifteen minutes however a poor clearance compounded by a poorly controlled ball by Howson allowed Lamela to dribble through the centre of our defence and slot it past Mejias with consummate ease, making it two nil.
The game now took on a damage limitation feel to it. Poor ball control on both occasions was the cause of our downfall for the goals. Maybe it was nerves in a busy stadium that got to Boro but with the game approaching twenty minutes there was little to see in terms of us staging a comeback. A well spotted long ball to Fletcher from Nmecha was misjudged by Sanchez but also Fletcher who had given up on it before realising there was still something left of the move thanks to the defender’s generosity. Lamela then went close again for Spurs after some more very hesitant Boro defending. Boro were dropping deeper defending but nobody was picking up the rampant White shirts and therefore allowing them space, time and movement to attack down the middle almost at will.
Twenty-five minutes in and we had a virtual back seven with Nmecha and Fletcher up front 50 yards away making it very difficult to ease the pressure by finding a Red shirt that wasn’t crowded out. Mejias dived across the face of his goal to tip a Sessegnon shot wide for Spurs’ first corner. Two minutes later and Tanganga ran through in acres of space with Johnson out of position to shoot just wide. A theatrical dive from Lo Celsa straight out of Dele Alli’s greatest dives volume 12 was waved away, dismissed as no penalty with the first half reaching thirty minutes. Wing brought down Eriksen on the edge of the “D”, Lamela and Eriksen lined it up and it was the Dane that hit a daisy cutter that Mejias got down for with relative ease much to the relief of those who had travelled down from the North East.
A ridiculous ball from Clayton in the Spurs half to Fry turning attack into chaos was made worse by Fry’s lack of control setting Spurs away on yet another attack from which we were fortunate not to go three behind. A well planned corner from McNair was cleared out, collected by Howson on the edge of the Spurs box and the ex-Leeds man dribbled through and side stepped a series of challenges and threaded a ball through to the unmarked McNair on the edge of the six yard box and with the goal in his sights Paddy hit a shot that probably hit Big Ben. A quick counter attack again caused by Boro players failing to control the first ball saw Spurs carve us open down the centre of the pitch with Luca Moura’s shot going just wide on forty minutes.
Boro continued to occupy a ten-yard band with eight crowded players outside their own eighteen-yard box creating their own problems. Tanganga then barged Johnson off the ball near the Spurs corner flag which Johnson took himself, putting the ball into the Spurs box were Fletcher centrally got his head to it but it went wide in a rare Boro effort on goal. The first half came to a close with Boro in a rare spell of possession but going absolutely nowhere. Despite the inexperience of the Boro side and the dominance of Spurs, that Mejias howler completely destroyed any plan, hope or belief that Woodgate, Keane and Percovich may have instilled before kick-off. Perhaps spending years sat on benches or playing in the Cypriot league isn’t ideal preparation for a live televised FA Cup tie in a large modern Stadium.
At half time I would guess that thoughts could understandably have been more on Friday and Fulham than the second half in a game that we had thrown away in seconds before looking second best for almost the entire forty-five minutes. The team talk must have centred around “a nothing to lose mind set” except dignity itself.
No changes at half time for either side. A free kick awarded for a foul was launched ineffectively by Clayton down the right wing but Spurs came straight back at Boro. In fairness those with Red shirts now looked to be stationed higher up the pitch. In a tussle Vertonghen headed the back of Fletcher’s head leaving them both seeing stars a minute into the half. Spence was then adjudged to have been fouled out on the right wing for the free kick to be sent in by Johnson which was headed out and Spurs once again broke with pace. A familiar pattern was repeating itself. A series of fast, slick interpassing moves from Spurs for over a minute ended with Tanganga slotting a dangerous and teasing ball across the face of the Boro goal with Sessegnon unmarked meeting it but thankfully blasting it well over for a Boro let off.
Nmecha won a free kick twenty yards out which Wing fizzed over a ducking pseudo Boro wall to have Gazzaniga diving at full length to sting his palms. A half-hearted Penalty shout followed when Nmecha fell clumsily in the box after an equally clumsy defensive challenge. This was better from Boro but still far from convincing. On fifty-six minutes George Saville came on for Ben Liddle presumably as part damage limitation on the youngster and a forlorn optimistic hope that he just might nick one back for us against a former Boss. Two minutes later a straightforward cross from Johnson was sliced out by the liability that was Sanchez but the resultant corner was easily caught by Gazzaniga before he launched it up Field with Mejias causing another worrying indecisive moment in not dealing with it.
With thirty minutes left Son then came on for Lucas Moura which wasn’t exactly a sight Boro fans wanted to see. A two-minute purple patch from Boro saw Gazzaniga come out to foil Nmecha and then Spence overhit a follow up cross which was as good as it got up until that point bt at least Boro looked to be trying to get something back. On sixty-five Tanganga brought down Johnson giving Boro another free kick out on our left which was floated in by McNair’s right foot which Vertonghen promptly headed out for a corner. Johnson sent it in but it was cleared and immediately Spurs burst clear again and almost punished Boro but the danger finally eased with conceding a corner which in the end was simply hoofed up to Gazzaniga.
Spurs were back to passing the ball around, probing, trying to draw Boro out with Boro standing off them and dropping deep but I doing so giving them far too much space and time. Son twisted and turned beating three Red shirts cutting into the box but fortunately he slipped at a crucial moment conceding a goal kick. The ball was launched up to Nmecha who won his duel and allowed Spence to get down the wing and win a corner off the covering Vertonghen. Nmecha met the corner but Sanchez done enough this time to prevent him getting a clean header and it sailed over.
A seventy second minute Spurs corner saw a few bodies go down in the Boro box but it went harmlessly out for a Spurs throw in on the opposite side of the pitch. Seventy-three minutes and Tav then came on for Djed Spence with Woodgate rotating his squad, saving the young Right Backs energy reserves for Friday. Tavs first bit of involvement was a stuttering, unconvincing run which in the end was easily read and cleared by Spurs. His next effort was far better, well worked, catching a ball down the wing and cutting it back then playing a cross field ball to Saville who shot outside the box winning a corner in the process.
Gestede then came on for the tiring Nmecha before the corner was actually taken on seventy-seven minutes. After all the drama of the substitution Paddy McNair sent it in perfectly for Gazzaniga to collect it with ease. Seeing it late, Mejias then partially redeemed his credibility with a low reflex save after Eriksen had sent in a shot come deflected cross that evaded everyone in a crowded Boro box. Johnson then sent a cross in on eighty minutes finding Gestede but he got underneath his header and the scores remained the same.
A minute later long ball out of the Boro defence was knocked on by Gestede to Saville who strolled through the Spurs defence almost in slow motion and stroked an eighteen-yard ball inside the upright just evading Gazzaniga to bring Boro back in it with eight minutes left. With Spurs rattled, Boro immediately won a corner two minutes later which Gestede got another connection with but his header went over. Mourinho responded by bring Dier off for Dele Alli to see out the last five minutes. A blocking foul by Howson on Son was delayed as Clayts struggled with cramp which may have been real or tactical to take the momentum away from Spurs. The delay clearly affected Eriksen as he blasted it well over Meias’ goal to probably land on the roof of St. Pauls Cathedral.
Three minutes from the fourth Official went up for added time as Tanganga skinned Johnson leaving him in his wake and put in a cross that saw Mejias momentarily knock Howson out cold as the ball somehow evaded two advancing white shirts. Next up it was Johnson to send in a late cross met by Gestede but agonisingly flashed wide with Fletcher closing in just too late. Alli broke free in the dying seconds, centrally and with only Mejias to beat he managed to fluff his lines and the game ended with the score 2-1 to Spurs and with it also ending Boro’s cup exploits for another season.
A disastrous start and an unconvincing performance which was severely punished but it ended with a much better second half of the second half from Boro. There were no outstanding MOM performances from Boro, Johnson done well in parts but was equally exposed, Howson as ever done well apart from his aberration in not dealing with the ball that led to the second Spurs goal. Overall Djed Spence was the one that caught the eye and stood out in Red. On to Friday night now at the Cottage and the much more important business of ensuring Championship survival or just maybe chasing the Play Offs with a much stronger Boro side!