Wednesday 25 April 2018

Davies keeps Dale dream alive

Rochdale 2 Tottenham 2

Rochdale striker Steven Davies celebrates his late equaliser against Tottenham. Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images
Rochdale striker Steven Davies celebrates his late equaliser against Tottenham. Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

Jason Burt

The enduring, indestructible appeal of the world's oldest cup competition was encapsulated by this wonderful FA Cup tie.

Rochdale took the lead against Tottenham Hotspur, they played magnificently and they finally went behind to a Dele Alli-earned penalty, converted by Harry Kane, as Mauricio Pochettino had to call on his big guns. But Rochdale would not give it up. They simply would not give up.

Davies (R) shoots to score their late second goal. Photo; Getty Images
Davies (R) shoots to score their late second goal. Photo; Getty Images

With 43 seconds to go, the ball was swung into the Spurs penalty area for one last time, skimming off the head of Toby Alderweireld - commonly regarded as the best central defender in the Premier League, but made to look uncomfortable on this raucous occasion - and fell at the feet of substitute Steve Davies.

The journeyman 30-year-old striker, who has been plagued by injury, took a deft touch and finished with a Kane-like precision to beat goalkeeper Michel Vorm and earn Rochdale a richly deserved - and enriching - replay and to give the FA Cup a superb story.

It was the very least the lowest-ranked team left in the competition deserved, although quite how Rochdale are bottom of League One, given the quality and intensity of their performance, is a mystery.

Promised

Their proud manager Keith Hill, a seasoned, admirable campaigner, had promised they would play football on their newly laid £500,000 pitch and they did just that. This was probably the biggest game in Rochdale's 111-year history, certainly the biggest cup tie, and they did themselves, their supporters and the town proud.

Tottenham's Son Heung-min in action with Rochdale's Jimmy McNulty. Photo: Reuters/Andrew Yates
Tottenham's Son Heung-min in action with Rochdale's Jimmy McNulty. Photo: Reuters/Andrew Yates

So much debate centres on the value and importance of the FA Cup and where it now stands in the football landscape, but it survives. And, with ties like this, it thrives. They will talk about this day for years to come.

It was a heartwarming occasion. An occasion when there was a buzz, when the fans arrived early to gain a glimpse of Kane and Co - and when they did there were a few jokey, pantomime boos quickly followed by requests for selfies and autographs that were patiently met.

For Kane this was a special game and it seemed his goal would grab the headlines.

Special? It was against Rochdale and at this ground that Kane made his professional debut back in January 2011 as a 73rd-minute substitute in a mid-table League One fixture, while on loan at Leyton Orient.

Tottenham's Son Heung-min in action with Rochdale's Callum Camps. Photo: Reuters/Andrew Yates
Tottenham's Son Heung-min in action with Rochdale's Callum Camps. Photo: Reuters/Andrew Yates

Yesterday he came on to replace Fernando Llorente and when Alli went over under Harrison McGahey's challenge, Kane stroked the spot-kick past goalkeeper Josh Lillis. But it was not enough for Spurs.

Out on the pitch Rochdale showed no deference. They believed and they believed right from the start. It mattered not a jot that their opponents made 11 changes from the team who had earned such an impressive draw away to Juventus in the Champions League in midweek.

Before that it was the north London derby at Wembley for Spurs and from there, via Turin, to this tight, modest ground was some gear change.

But it was still a game of football, 11 v 11, and football is what Rochdale played as they took the tie to Spurs and out-Spursed them at times in their intense pressing game.

That was evidenced in the opening goal, just before half-time. Rochdale worked remarkably hard, but also remarkably intelligently and it was Harry Winks who lost the ball carelessly just over halfway with the midfielder tackled by Mark Kitching.

Tottenham's Danny Rose in action with Rochdale's Ian Henderson. Photo: Reuters/Andrew Yates
Tottenham's Danny Rose in action with Rochdale's Ian Henderson. Photo: Reuters/Andrew Yates

He found Stephen Humphreys, who quickly switched the play and sent Andrew Cannon down the other flank.

Cannon's low ball in was perfectly weighted and Ian Henderson, unmarked, arrived to side-foot gloriously past Vorm. Henderson is another older striker at 33 who has been around the leagues and is Rochdale's captain and talisman.

The celebrations were wild, exuberant and justified. In fact Henderson had snatched at two earlier chances, screwing the ball across goal from a smart pass by the impressive 22-year-old midfielder Callum Camps and then shooting at Vorm when Rochdale quickly turned possession over.

Spurs struggled. They were out of their comfort zone. They carved out one clear first-half opportunity when Son Heung-min was sent clear by Llorente only for his shot to be saved. Llorente sent the follow-up wide when he should have scored, but apart from that and some bright moments from Lucas Moura, on his full debut, that was it.

Lucas then had more of an impact. He equalised.

Moussa Sissoko threaded the ball through to Lucas who once more used his speed to run through, take one touch and slam his shot high beyond Lillis.

In fairness Spurs had not panicked, but there will have been a quickening of the pulse as Rochdale attempted to hit back and Henderson went down in the area. The penalty appeals were ignored, but the home side continued to believe, although Victor Wanyama should have put Spurs in front when he volleyed over.

Pochettino made changes and it appeared the pressure had told when Alli earned his penalty for Kane. It was late, very late, but despite their prodigious efforts, Rochdale were not finished. It was Matty Done who crossed from the left to spark more delirious scenes. The fans stayed on late after the final whistle.

They are off to Wembley, they are still contesting a place in the quarter-finals, as their FA Cup adventure continues. (© The Daily Telegraph)

 

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