BARNSLEY’S two victories under the Wembley Arch during the Spring of 2016 understandably dominated talk during the build-up to taking on Tottenham Hotspur, but last night the ghost of another, less happy visit was evoked.
Namely, the 2008 FA Cup semi-final defeat to Cardiff City that will be forever remembered by those whose loyalties lay with the Oakwell club for a horrible miss by Kayode Odejayi.
Had the Nigerian scored that day, things may have worked out very differently and there was a distinct sense of deja-vu for those 3,000 travelling fans who saw their side bow out of the Carabao Cup.
A clinical strike from Dele Alli was enough to settle an entertaining game, but there was a similar sense of ‘what if?’ to that defeat nine years ago.
Again, an opportunity that went begging was the cause of the angst as Ike Ugbo was denied the goal his all-round display had deserved by a save from Michel Vorm. Spurs’ goalkeeper was rightly lauded by his team-mates for touching the ball round the post, but Ugbo really should have scored after creating sufficient time and space with a clever flick over Jan Vertonghen.
It was far from the only time the Reds went close to scoring, with Brad Potts and Liam Lindsay both having good chances. Vertonghen was also fortunate to slice a clearance just over his own crossbar.
But Ugbo’s saved effort felt to be a pivotal moment, even before Alli fired in on 65 minutes to break Barnsley’s resistance and, ultimately, settle the tie.
The England man’s third goal of the season was enough to nudge Mauricio Pochettino’s tally of wins at Wembley to three from 11 games, just one ahead of Reds counterpart Paul Heckingbottom from his own trio of visits.
Maybe this win will help Spurs feel more at home during their year away from White Hart Lane.
The north London club have certainly worked hard to try to give Wembley a more familiar feel. Flags featuring either the famous Spurs cockerel or club motto ‘To Dare Is To Do’ are hung every 20 yards or so along Olympic Way.
Similar images adorn the two scoreboards at either end of the stadium, but those fans who have temporarily decamped from N17 are still struggling to settle in their new surrounds.
The banks of seats in Arsenal red probably do not help. Nor does the statue of Bobby Moore, a West Ham legend and the only Englishman to lift the World Cup, that looks down on the hordes making their way into the stadium.
These unfamiliar surrounds may explain why Spurs laboured for much of a contest that, during the early stages of the second half, saw the enterprising visitors threaten an upset.
That spell including Ugbo’s squandered opportunity saw serious questions asked of the home defence.
Thanks to Vorm’s save, Pochettino’s men had the answers, but the standing ovation that Barnsley received from their fans at the final whistle was fully merited.
It was as much in recognition of those attacking forays after half-time as it was the impressive defensive display that had kept a starting XI that cost north of £100m in check for so long.
The tone was set early on, as a swarm of red shirts ensured that the hosts were not allowed to settle. Spurs may have dominated possession for long periods in those opening 45 minutes, but it was telling that their only chances of note came via a couple of corners.
The first came very early on, Kieran Trippier picking out Juan Foyth only for the £9m summer arrival from Estudiantes to head narrowly wide.
Another chance went begging midway through the first half, Fernando Llorente – like Foyth making his debut after joining from Swansea City for £14m – heading wastefully over after getting away from Liam Lindsay.
Lindsay almost made amends just before the break, but his header flew wide. Then came Ugbo’s chance that went begging, which meant, when Alli swept in a Trippier cross that had agonisingly evaded four Barnsley defenders, that the Yorkshire side’s involvement in the League Cup was over for another year.
Tottenham Hotspur: Vorm; Trippier, Foyth, Vertonghen, Walkers-Peters; Dembele (Dier 78), Winks, Sissoko, Dele (Oakley-Boothe 90), Son, Llorente (Nkoudou 67). Unused substitutes: Gazzaniga, Alderweireld, Kane, Eriksen, Oakley-Boothe.
Barnsley: Davies; McCarthy, MacDonald, Lindsay, Fryers; Barnes (Hammill 71), Potts (Moncur 71), Bird, Williams (Bradshaw 78), Hedges; Ugbo. Unused substitutes: Townsend, Jackson, Pearson, Thiam.
Referee: T Robinson (West Sussex)..