Supersub Alli is the hero as Spurs dump Villans out
Tottenham 2 Aston Villa 0
Such is the talismanic importance of Dele Alli that it was not until the 20-year-old's introduction as a second-half substitute that Tottenham Hotspur were armed to win this FA Cup third round match at White Hart Lane.
With Harry Kane given the day off to attend the birth of his daughter, Spurs initially put their faith in 22-year-old Vincent Janssen. However, the Dutch striker departed still looking for his first goal from open play after 23 appearances since his £18.5m move from AZ Alkmaar last summer.
"It's true that he's struggling, but it's difficult," said Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino.
"If you look again at the game against Chelsea, both strikers struggled in the first-half. When you don't have space it's difficult.
"Vincent is young, from a different league. He needs to adapt, work hard and not be frustrated. We push our players a lot and we will push him to the level we need for the team."
For all those kind words, unkind comparisons are being made with another big-money forward who flopped, Roberto Soldado, and that will send a shudder through Spurs fans.
That Spurs finally found a way past Villa's massed defence owed much to Alli's arrival and also that of another substitute, Georges-Kévin Nkoudou, as the pair combined to set up the opening goal.
"I don't take it as a compliment," said Villa manager Steve Bruce when asked if he had forced Alli to be brought on with his obdurate tactics. "I wish he had sat on his a***."
Bruce had joked with Alli as the pair stood on the touchline while the Spurs midfielder prepared for action after an hour.
"Alli? I asked if he could come to play for us," Bruce joked. "He seems a remarkably humble young man, but a very good player. He certainly changed it for them. He has that wonderful quality that top players have - he finds a bit of space to open teams up."
Kane has the same quality and Pochettino's plan was to also name him among the substitutes, but could not do so as his partner, Kate, gave birth to a daughter at 7.30am yesterday.
"It's better after 2-0 to explain and he put the news on Twitter," Pochettino later said.
"Big hug to Kate… but Harry was more tired than his wife! We sent him to sleep as he was at the hospital all night."
Tottenham, who made nine changes from the side that performed so outstandingly well in beating Chelsea, finally went ahead in the 71st minute.
Nkoudou crossed the ball just behind Ben Davies, but the defender adjusted well to glance a header across debutant goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United.
One would probably have been enough, but once ahead Tottenham were liberated and 10 minutes later they had their second.
Kieran Trippier and Moussa Sissoko exchanged passes on the right, and Sissoko burst away from Jordan Amavi into the box. From the byline he pulled the ball back to Son Heung-min, hovering in the box, and he finished into the corner.
That clinched Spurs' sixth win in a row, with Alli the driving force. © Daily Telegraph, London.