Football Features

“An Argentine masterclass” – Winners & losers as Spurs see off Middlesbrough despite late scare in FA Cup

By Ben Green

Published: 22:06, 14 January 2020

Tottenham Hotspur have set up an FA Cup fourth round tie against Southampton after easing past Middlesbrough 2-1 in their third round replay. 

The hosts cantered to a half-time lead after both Giovani Lo Celso and Erik Lamela capitalised on mistakes made by the travelling side, putting Jose Mourinho’s men two to the good in convincing fashion.

Spurs resumed control after the break, but the North Yorkshire side refused to go down without a fight as substitute George Saville got his name on the scoresheet in the final 10 minutes, but it only proved to be a consolation as Mourinho’s men held out for the win. 

It was an Argentine masterclass from Lo Celso and Lamela, who started together for the first time under Mourinho and sealed progression for Spurs, but who were the winners and losers in the capital tonight?

Winner: Jose Mourinho

With Spurs winless in four matches, early question marks have started to surface regarding Mourinho and whether the Portuguese tactician is truly capable of transforming the fortunes of a club seemingly in limbo following the departure of Mauricio Pochettino.

His first obstacle following defeat to Liverpool was to navigate past a tricky tie against an in-form Middlesbrough. He has not only jumped that hurdle, but cleared it by some distance as his side were ruthless, dominant and cut-throat tonight.

Granted, Boro netted late on to send shockwaves across the stadium and elicit a sense of unease in the stands, but the scoreline only tells one side of the story as Spurs could, and perhaps should have been out of sight before Saville produced a fine finish.

Danny Rose recently spoke about his ‘serial winning’ manager and how the former Real Madrid boss is perhaps setting his sights on winning the FA Cup. Well, Mourinho has taken one step closer to silverware. If anyone is going to bring something tangible to Spurs’ trophy cabinet, then it is probably Mourinho.

Loser: Boro backline

After days of training ground exercises, bespoke tactical instructions and inspirational team talks, Jonathan Woodgate would have been exceedingly disappointed to find his side a goal down before he barely had time to take his seat in Spurs’ immaculate dugout.

With only two minutes on the clock Tomas Mejias, who made some crucial saves in the first encounter between these two sides, attempted to play out from the back, as most sides seem to have a hankering for these days, only to find his attempted delivery intercepted by an onrushing Lo Celso.

The Argentine duly latched on to Mejias’ loose pass and slalomed his way into the box before breaking the deadlock. It was a gift to the hosts, but also a foretaste of things to come as Lamela soon robbed the ball off of Jonny Howson to make it Spurs 2-0 Boro.

Howson, a seasoned and versatile midfielder, would have been one of the last players expected to produce a blunder. But, Howson’s howler really set Spurs out of sight and it was always going to be a tall order for Boro to bounce back.  

Winner: Giovani Lo Celso

The Real Betis loanee was at it from minute one, or minute two for that matter, as his immediate high-press put considerable pressure on the Boro backline, forcing backup goalkeeper Mejias to hit a wayward pass which he was able to read, intercept and tuck home from close range.

Those who made the 500-mile round trip to the capital this evening couldn’t have envisaged their side getting off to a worse start, but Lo Celso made sure the hosts asserted their ascendency from the early exchanges, letting Woodgate know they were in for a much tougher match than their preceding contest. 

The 23-year-old has struggled to cement a starting berth under Mourinho and he would have been particularly disappointed to once again find his place on the bench in defeat to Liverpool over the weekend, but tonight he looked hungry and determined; a man on a mission to catch the attention of his manager – and he certainly did that.

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Loser: Davinson Sanchez

Nothing about the Colombian tonight oozed confidence despite Spurs dominating possession and Boro largely sitting back. Sanchez looked all at sea when the ball was lofted into the air, mistiming two headers in the first half as the windy conditions made it a challenging night for aerial duels.

But, not all the blame can be put on Storm Brendan, as Sanchez joined Boro in the backline blunders, with his overhit pass to centre-back partner Jan Vertonghen finding its way to Djed Spence, who slipped in Lukas Nmecha, only to see his effort met by Paulo Gazzaniga.

And it was a similar story after the interval as his mis-hit clearance could have sliced into his own net from an inviting Boro delivery. Fortunately for Sanchez, it flew out for a corner but the murmurs from the terraces was palpable.

Winner: Japhet Tanganga

The Hackney-born defender was a surprise inclusion on Saturday night as Spurs took on juggernauts Liverpool, but the 20-year-old impressed on his debut and didn’t look fazed pitting his wits against a side that included three of the Ballon d’Or’s top five in 2019.

It is never an easy task marking a Premier League winger, of any capacity, but to face Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah et al on your first league start is a very frightening proposition for a young defender. And yet Tanganga didn’t wilt at the prospect, instead holding his own against the European champions.

As a reward for his eye-catching, defensive exploits, Mourinho handed the academy graduate a start this evening in the right-back slot, and once again, he left Lilywhites purring come the full-time whistle.

Nominally a centre-back by trade, Tanganga showcased his versatility this evening by seamlessly filling in as a full-back, and he looked the part, galloping forward when Spurs attacked, while also tracking back on the odd occasion Boro mounted a charge of their own.

Tanganga looked up to the challenge, both physically and technically, so we can certainly expect to see more of him this season.