The insertion of Giovani Lo Celso and Erik Lamela from the off paid early dividends as Tottenham Hotspur rode a strong first half performance to FA Cup victory.
Less than a quarter into the game Tottenham Hotspur stung Middlesbrough and were on their way to victory. However, after a strong first half performance, a lacklustre second period reminded the club and fans of the flaws that remain in the squad.
Spurs First Half Frenzy
Erik Lamela and Giovani Lo Celso have been paired substitutes twice in the last two games and their efforts led to their inclusion in the starting line-up. The question was if the energy and pace they were bringing in the later stages of the game could be replicated from the off.
The good news for Spurs is the impact the two Argentine’s have had in recent second halves. Middlesbrough seemingly thwarted Tottenham’s first attack of the game by playing the ball back to Tomas Mejias, who simply had to clear the ball up the field. I can only assume he didn’t see Lo Celso, because, instead of a clearance, Mejias tried a short pass to his left back only to have Lo Celso step in, take the pass and proceed to blast past Mejias for a 1-0 Spurs lead less than two minutes into the match.
Middlesbrough looked to push back soon after the goal. Around eight minutes in, a long ball toward Tottenham’s senior defender on the day, Davinson Sanchez, led to an aerial duel and forced the Colombian to make a clearance from his backside. Then a subsequent long ball nearly caught Spurs out as Gazzaniga was a little too quick off his line, with Sanchez’ back-pass header almost going by the keeper.
Then about ten minutes after Tottenham took the lead, Boro had arguably their best chance of the match. Sanchez played a long ball up to Jan Vertonghen near midfield from deep in his own end. Boro got on the loose ball and quickly moved it up to Lukas Nmecha who forced Gazzaniga into the first of his three big saves.
Tottenham was particularly effective with the press in the first half, which led to several wild clearances, one of which was won by Sanchez near midfield, then flicked on by Christian Eriksen to Erik Lamela. Lamela drove toward his right, floating by two defenders and moving Mejias off his line. Just as it looked like Lamela was going to strike he coolly passed the ball with the outside of his left foot past the onrushing keeper into the corner for a 2-0 Spurs lead.
Following the second goal, Tottenham ramped up the pressure and dominated the rest of the half. Several Spurs had chances to score. One Tottenham move had at least eight players touch the ball, starting with Sanchez and Japhet Tanganga in the back and ending with a clear shot by Eric Dier who shot over.
Ryan Sessegnon played a nice 1-2 with Lamela near 26 minutes and forced a fingertip save from Mejias, earning a Spurs corner kick from Sessegnon’s effort. Minutes later, Tanganga got in on the right and played a ball across the box that no one could reach. Eriksen played an inspired game – at least for this season – and earned a free kick which was easily saved by Mejias.
Boro did have one more chance in the in the first half, as Patty McNair found himself all alone on the left. However, McNair blasted well over. The replay showed he was likely offside.
Tottenham had one last chance before the break as a Lamela combination with Lucas Moura led to a fast break which ended in a Moura shot that went just wide of the goal, and a fuming Eriksen, who busted his hump to be open on the right for an easy tap in. Regardless, Spurs went in at the breakup 2-0 in a game that could have easily been 4 or 5.
Spurs Second Half Slump
For all the energy and chances that Tottenham Hotspur created in the first half, that same verve just wasn’t present in the second half. Admittedly the second half was more open, but a two-goal lead really is the most dangerous in soccer. One more goal for the leaders and the game would have been put to bed, but one goal for the losing side and suddenly you’re in a dog fight. The question was who was going to score next.
Based simply on who wanted it more, Boro, deserved it as Spurs were not nearly as sharp or attack-minded in the second half. Tottenham didn’t manage a single effort on goal in the last 45 minutes and only had 7 shots total in the half, two less than Middlesbrough who put three on frame in the second period.
Whereas in the first half Spurs zipped the ball about the park with over 415 passes, in the second half they slowed to a walking pace, knocking only 262 passes and completing a lesser percentage than in the first. So instead of stepping up their game and finishing a Championship side, Tottenham took their foot off the pedal and tried to coast to victory.
The coasting ultimately cost Tottenham as Boro substitute George Saville took the ball up the middle and blasted by a helpless Gazzaniga.
Instead of Boro pressuring Spurs right up to the end, it was Tottenham’s youngest player, Japhet Tanganga, who played the part of the energizer bunny. Tanganga, who was playing his second game in four days, was there bombing up the right flank well into injury time. Spurs will take the result, even if their second half was decidedly underwhelming.