Wednesday 29 January 2020

Tottenham lack cutting edge without Kane as Boro secure replay

Middlesbrough 1 Tottenham1

Tottenham Hotspur manager Jose Mourinho gives out instructions from the sideline. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/Lee Smith
Tottenham Hotspur manager Jose Mourinho gives out instructions from the sideline. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/Lee Smith

Luke Edwards

Jose Mourinho is rapidly discovering that the life of a Tottenham manager tends to be dominated by conversations about Harry Kane.

That subject matter intensified yesterday, as his side just about avoided an embarrassingly early FA Cup exit against Middlesbrough.

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Without Kane, their captain, talisman and most reliable source of goals, Spurs looked uncertain.

It has been a recurring issue for this team and Mourinho did not try to disguise the fact he thinks it will continue to be. Several times, as he defended the result and the performance, he used the phrase "playing without a striker". That is not something you accidentally let slip.

Not that he would say how long Kane would be out for, merely repeating that "it is not a small injury" to his hamstring. There is a growing feeling the England captain's absence will be measured in months rather than weeks.

"It's not going to be Harry, Harry," replied Mourinho when asked another question about his star player. "I'm not going to be talking about him in every press conference, we have what we have and we cannot use Lucas Moura or Son [Heung-min] as a No 9 like Harry Kane, so we have to do other things while Harry is out.

Middlesbrough's Ashley Fletcher celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game. Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
Middlesbrough's Ashley Fletcher celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game. Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

"Every minute he is out is a big loss because he is a big player for us, but we have to accept it and fight with the boys we have."

At least Spurs avoided defeat during a tricky tie against an in-form Middlesbrough side who seem to have found a fine young manager in Jonathan Woodgate.

Boro did themselves proud and although Spurs enjoyed more than 70 per cent of possession, they were neither precise nor imaginative enough to slice through the home team's defensive formation.

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Tottenham's Erik Lamela skips through a challenge from Middlesbrough's Paddy McNair. Photo: REUTERS/Scott Heppell
Tottenham's Erik Lamela skips through a challenge from Middlesbrough's Paddy McNair. Photo: REUTERS/Scott Heppell

In contrast, Boro's youthful side, who have sprinted up the Championship table over the past few weeks, caused plenty of problems with the speed of their counter-attacks. They also rattled Spurs at set-pieces, creating the ideal conditions for an upset.

The Teessiders may well have gone in front in the first half when Dael Fry met a Paddy McNair corner. But his header was saved by the feet of Paulo Gazzaniga, who also did well to block Fry's follow-up. Still the threat was not over and, when the ball fell to George Saville, his shot was cleared off the line by Toby Alderweireld.

Boro continued to impress, finally getting their noses in front early in the second half. It was a terrible goal to concede from a Tottenham point of view, Saville looking up, spotting the space behind the defence and looping a high ball over the top for Ashley Fletcher to run on to. He was in on goal and finished with a low shot under Gazzaniga's leg.

Mourinho made changes, ending the game with six attacking players on the pitch. And finally Spurs delivered the sort of ball from which goals are scored, Serge Aurier whipping over a cross which Moura headed back across goal. It was a clinical finish made simple by the quality of Aurier's delivery.

Tottenham Hotspur's Lucas Moura celebrates scoring their equaliser. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/Lee Smith
Tottenham Hotspur's Lucas Moura celebrates scoring their equaliser. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/Lee Smith

The chances of an upset receded. Spurs dominated the final exchanges and were only denied a winner by a superb save from Boro's back-up goalkeeper, Tomas Mejias, from Moura.

"It was a difficult match but if one team was going to win, it was going to be us in that final half an hour," said Mourinho.

Woodgate and his assistant Robbie Keane can look forward to a replay against their former club.

"I'm proud of my lads because it has been difficult at times keeping their heads up," said Woodgate. "They have stayed with it, they have remained calm and they've got a real team spirit." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Serge Aurier and Toby Alderweireld combine to deal with Middlesbrough's Dael Fry. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/Lee Smith
Serge Aurier and Toby Alderweireld combine to deal with Middlesbrough's Dael Fry. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/Lee Smith

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