Tottenham 1 Barnsley 0: Reds undone by Dele Alli at Wembley
After some indifferent recent displays, Mauricio Pochettino started Alli to help him regain momentum and the plan worked perfectly, with the 21-year-old proving the difference in a hard-fought 1-0 victory.
Alli celebrated by cupping his ears, perhaps as a repost to recent criticism of his performances or, more humorously, in recognition of an audience that numbered only 23,926 at the national stadium.
In fact, Tottenham played in front of only 26,244 against Gillingham at White Hart Lane this time last season but the swathes of empty red seats created an atmosphere more akin to a youth team game than the third round of a domestic cup competition.
Pochettino himself had made it clear on Monday he would not be making any special effort in this term’s League and FA Cups, despite many believing his young Tottenham side would benefit greatly from the buzz of winning a trophy.
That said, he fielded a relatively strong starting XI that included Alli and Mousa Dembele, who have been struggling for form and fitness respectively, as well as Jan Vertonghen, who was named captain.
Also included were summer signings Juan Foyth and Fernando Llorente, while Harry Winks started for the first time since April and fellow academy graduate Kyle Walker-Peters was handed a chance to impress at left-back.
For Barnsley, Ryan Hedges shook off a knock to start and there was also a placed for Zeki Fryers, once of Tottenham and Manchester United.
Foyth almost made the dream start to his debut by rising high to meet an early corner but headed wide of the far post, while Winks was given a bone-crunching welcome by the combative Joe Williams in midfield.
Alli, meanwhile, was all strut and swagger, an audacious pass around the back of his legs leading to a bending effort from range that flew over.
But it was two headers, one for each team, that presented the best chances of the half as the rusty Llorente wrestled away from Liam Lindsay but nodded over from six yards before Lindsay darted free at the other end, but glanced just wide of the far post.
A tepid opening period drew to a close without a single short on target mustered and it took Barnsley’s Ike Ugbo, on loan from Chelsea, to draw the first save within a minute of the restart.
He lashed a half-volley at Michel Vorm after ghosting through a dozing Tottenham back-line, which began a 20-minute period of pressure for the visitors against their increasingly frantic opponents.
But, just as Barnsley thought they had a foothold, Spurs struck. Kieran Trippier had found Winks at the back post with one delivery moments before and his second, rolled across to Alli in the 65th minute, was too good to miss. Alli slotted home for his third goal of the season.
Substitute Georges-Kevin Nkoudou ripped a shot straight at Adam Davies and Tottenham were given a scare late on as Vertonghen almost skewed a clearance into his own net.
But there was to be no late drama and when Alli went off to a warm reception late on, replaced by 17-year-old debutante Tashan Oakley-Boothe, Pochettino knew the job was done.