Spurs fans know that it can never truly be easy with Tottenham Hotspur
This was the case again during Tuesday night’s FA Cup replay in North London. Spurs beat Middlesbrough 2-1 to advance to the fourth round of the competition, but their dominance should have resulted in a more impressive margin of victory.
Giovani Lo Celso and Erik Lamela scored early, and Jose Mourinho’s side hung on after George Saville brought the visitors back into things with a late goal.
The game really couldn’t have started in a better way for Spurs. Middlesbrough was attempting to play out of the back in just the second minute when Lo Celso pounced on a pass that was left short by Tomas Mejias. The Argentinian made a cut inside and slotted the ball past the keeper.
After the opener, the game’s pattern became established. As expected, Tottenham controlled the possession while the visitors packed players behind the ball.
Middlesbrough did have a chance on 13 minutes. Paulo Gazzaniga was called into action for the first time when he had to get down quickly to deny Lukas Nmecha.
The Championship side was then made to rue its missed opportunity just two minutes later. Lamela picked Jonny Howson’s pocket, drove forward into the box, and then dispatched a shot by Mejias.
In typical Lamela fashion, he refused to use his right foot, instead opting to hit the ball with a deft touch from the outside of his left boot. He wheeled away to enthusiastically celebrate with teammates and supporters.
If Spurs had been more clinical to end the half, they might have scored another goal or two. Lucas Moura had Christian Eriksen to his right on a break, but he chose to shoot and dragged an effort wide. A pass to the Dane would have surely made it 3-0.
Middlesbrough almost got back into the game right before halftime. Ashley Fletcher was able to get a point-blank header on a corner, but his attempt was past the post.
Tottenham didn’t play with the same intensity in the second half. Up 2-0, Spurs were often content to keep harmless possession, and they pressed less than they had been.
Early on, Lewis Wing blasted a free kick for the visitors, but Gazzaniga again did well to palm away the shot.
Son Heung-Min came on for Tottenham, but the warning shots continued. Jonathan Woodgate’s team kept picking up set pieces, albeit with no success.
So, Woodgate made a change. In the 78th minute, he brought on Rudy Gestede, a 6-foot-4 striker who causes tons of problems with his heading and jumping ability.
The big Belgian made an impact almost immediately. He did what target men do and got up well to beat Davinson Sanchez to a header. The ball came to George Saville, who created space in front of Japhet Tanganga and snuck a shot past Gazzaniga, which probably should have been saved.
Groans echoed around the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium after another clean sheet was lost, and Spurs still had over 10 minutes left of time to kill off their victory.
Dele Alli came into the match for the last few minutes to help see the game out. There was one more chance for Gestede on a corner, but he put it over the bar.
Spurs should have had a third goal after two chances in stoppage time. Tanganga burst forward down the right, but Son just couldn’t latch onto the 20-year-old’s cross.
Tanganga’s play was, again, very encouraging. He was playing on the right and looked quite comfortable on the ball and in defense.
Just before the final whistle, it was Dele’s turn to flub an opportunity. He was played through on goal, but his touch let him down and he was ultimately forced wide.
Still, it didn’t really matter. Tottenham won 2-1 and will travel to Southampton for the fourth round.
The FA Cup is likely Spurs’ only chance to win a trophy this season. Time will tell if this group can bring the cup back to Tottenham for the first time since 1991.