Tottenham Hotspur 2 Middlesbrough 1 - Early errors costly as Spurs end Boro’s FA Cup dream

LOUIS VAN GAAL, Manuel Pellegrini, but not Jose Mourinho.

Middlesbrough's George Saville, right, celebrates scoring his side's goal against Spurs.
Middlesbrough's George Saville, right, celebrates scoring his side's goal against Spurs.

Pride of place in Middlesbrough’s recent cup history is reserved for two joyous occasions during the high-yield Aitor Karanka years at Old Trafford and the Etihad Stadium as they lavishly dined out at the expense of two famous names in world football in the Dutchman and the Chilean – then managing Manchester United and Manchester City respectively.

After handing Mourinho and Spurs a real scare on Teesside in the first instalment, there was no tale of the unexpected in the replay.

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That said, that was time for a bit of late drama in the first-ever FA Cup match at the splendorous Tottenham Hotspur Stadium when a late strike from substitute George Saville set a potentially nervy finale for the hosts, who were in total control for much of the evening after racing into an early 2-0 lead and destined to reap a harvest.

Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga (right) saves from Boro's Lukas Nmecha

Spurs ultimately prevailed but not with scoreboard ease, while Boro were at least afforded the fillip of stopping their feted hosts from scoring on the restart following a much-improved display that showcased the togetherness, spirit and organisation during their recent upturn under a former Spurs favourite in Jonathan Woodgate.

Ahead of the game, Mourinho preached caution, although the facts showed that Spurs were unbeaten in forty FA Cup matches at home to teams from the lower tier, with their last defeat coming way back in January 1975 when Nottingham Forest, managed by Middlesbrough-born Brian Clough, triumphed.

That fine record remains intact, but while the first-half was much to home supporters’ liking, the second period was less edifying from their perspective.

The game was effectively decided in the opening quarter of an hour when two gifts – served up on a silver platter to Giovani Lo Celso and Erik Lamela – settled this contest.

Boro's George Saville, right.

Plaudits have deservedly been thrown in the direction of midfielders Jonny Howson and Paddy McNair in recent times for the way in which they have seamlessly slotted into Boro’s backline.

But against a Spurs side eager to prove a point or two – with forward players whose urgency, hunger, craft and movement was vastly improved on their pedestrian efforts at the Riverside – the make-shift defenders creaked and they were not alone as Spurs feasted on gaps and Boro uncertainty.

The tone for the poor decision-making was set by goalkeeper Tomas Meijas with his ill-advised decision to play out from the back with the game yet to settle down backfiring spectacularly.

Lo Celso seized upon his wretched pass, intended for Marvin Johnson and then it was the turn to Howson to err and have his pocket picked by Lamela, whose graceful run and finish exposed the chasm in class between these two sides that was not apparent ten days ago.

Tottenham Hotspur's Erik Lamela celebrates scoring his side's second goal.

Exhibition stuff in the first period from Spurs threatened to turn it into the sort of rout that would have taken the shine away from Boro’s sterling recent improvement.

To all intents and purposes, the second half looked a case of damage limitation for the Teessiders, mindful of game in the capital just 72 hours later against Fulham.

Boro, who suffered their last defeat in seven matches last night, thankfully did that and in the event, the 49,202 crowd were in for a bit of a late surprise.

The visitors’ number included midfielder Ben Liddle – son of Boro academy manager and ex-player Craig – who has handed a full debut, while loan signing Lukas Nmecha also handed a maiden start.

After Lo Celso’s opener – when he cut inside and rolled the ball into the net after Mejias’s wretched mistake – Nmecha was handed his moment of glory after being played in neatly by Djed Spence, but after cutting inside Japhet Tanganga, he was thwarted by Paulo Gazzaniga.

Soon after, Spurs made it two before the finger-tips of Mejias kept out Ryan Sessegnon’s low drive – with Boro’s goal starting to lead a charmed life.

Lo Celso, Christian Eriksen and Lucas Moura went close to a third and mercilessly, there was some clemency on the restart from Spurs towards the visitors, backed by a 3,700 travelling support.

Boro, who switched to 4-4-2 in the second half, went close to reducing the deficit when Lewis Wing again showed his technical prowess, with his curling free-kick yielding a full-stretch save from Gazzaniga.

After firing a deflected ‘sighter’ onto the roof of the net, Saville fared better when he drove home after fitful defending from Davinson Sanchez in a somewhat unexpected development.

It made for a genuine cup tie in the final throes, but it was Spurs who progressed, albeit with not quite the ease they had been expecting at the break.

Tottenham Hotspur: Gazzaniga; Tanganga, Sanchez, Vertonghen; Lo Celso, Winks, Dier (Alli 85), Sessegnon; Eriksen, Moura (Son 61), Lamela. Substitutes unused: Vorm, Foyth, Aurier, Skipp, Cirkin.

Middlesbrough: Mejias; Spence (Tavernier 74), Howson, McNair, Fry, Johnson; Liddle (Saville 57), Clayton, Wing; Nmecha (Gestede 78), Fletcher. Substitutes unused: Brynn, Roberts, Wood, Malley.

Referee: Craig Pawson (South Yorkshire).