LONDON – This time it was just one step too far for Nigel Clough and the Sheffield United players who have established themselves as the most prolific set of giantkillers in the country. They certainly gave Tottenham Hotspur an almighty fright in those moments when an 18-year-old substitute by the name of Che Adams, plucked from Ilkeston Town a few months ago, threatened to take the game into extra-time, but the momentum was quickly halted and Mauricio Pochettinoâ€™s side should probably have spared themselves the late drama.
The Premier League side had played as though affronted by any suggestion that they might be vulnerable on a night when they had to contend with blizzards and hailstones as well as a League One team who have beaten five top-division opponents over the past year.
Christian Eriksenâ€™s first goal was a thing of beauty and the imbalance of talent between the sides was obvious until that remarkable burst of action when Adams scored twice within five minutes of coming on the pitch. Briefly, the home side summoned enough energy and drive to suggest they still had realistic aspirations of winning the game in normal time and, after 84 minutes, the chance fell to another substitute, Louis Reed, only for him to rush his shot and slash the ball into the stand.
Tottenham were reprieved and four minutes later Harry Kaneâ€™s through ball was weighted beautifully for Eriksen to gallop clear. The Dane was free, running though the middle, and he kept his nerve to beat Mark Howard from eight yards.
Tottenham can now start preparing to meet Chelsea in the final at Wembley on 1 March but Clough was entitled to think his team had taken dignity from defeat. It has been an epic run and though there were long spells when it was evident they were from a league two divisions below their opponents, they came close to producing something extraordinary in that wild, exhilarating finale. Clough brought back memories of his father when he rebuked Adams for â€œcelebrating by the corner when we needed another goalâ€ but it was a night the teenager should cherish and the ninth-placed team in League One were knocked out only because of a penalty in the first leg.
Spurs were certainly the better side but it sums up the home sideâ€™s attitude that it became such a nervy encounter bearing in mind the long spells of superiority from the visitors once Eriksen had opened the scoring, making it 2-0 on aggregate, with a free-kick from an almost implausible angle.
Eriksen struck the ball from close to the corner point of the penalty area â€“ in other words, a position where most players would not have considered shooting was worthwhile â€“ and it was an extraordinary demonstration of how to control the ball with speed, power and just the right amount of bend. The shot had plenty of force behind it but it was the way the ball swerved and dipped at the last moment, with the deception of the trajectory, that left Howard almost motionless on his goalline. â€œNo goalkeeper in the world could have saved it,â€ Clough said.
The cold, harsh reality for the home supporters is that a team from the third tier of English football does not often come up against a player with these gifts and Spurs seemed to be coasting until Clough brought on Adams and the teenager had an immediate impact. His first goal was slipped in at the far post after Ryan Flynn had put over the best cross of the night and the second arrived two minutes later when he let fly with his right boot and the ball took a hefty deflection off Eric Dier to wrong-foot the goalkeeper Michel Vorm.
The common theme to Unitedâ€™s victories against West Ham, Southampton and QPR this season, to go with the ones against Aston Villa and Fulham last season, had been their refusal to be even slightly starstruck and, again, they looked as if they wanted to ram home that point.
There was great noise inside Bramall Lane and Clough could also reflect the night might have panned out differently had Jamie Murphy made the most of an early chance when Vorm fumbled a cross from Jamal Campbell-Ryce. Instead, Eriksenâ€™s free-kick badly dented the home sideâ€™s self-belief and by half-time Spurs had had enough of the ball inside Unitedâ€™s half to feel they could have been in an even more commanding position.
Kane was a difficult opponent with his tendency to drop off and run into channels. Erik Lamela and Mousa DembÃ©lÃ© were dovetailing nicely in the space behind Kane and the more defence-minded midfielders, Ryan Mason and Benjamin Stambouli, made sure there could never be any accusation that Spurs were outworked in midfield.
All the elements had been here for the traditional shock, with the rutted pitch, the freezing temperatures and a partisan crowd, but Spurs made it clear they were not going to wilt and the goals from Adams were out of keeping with the general pattern of play.
The visitors had brought loud support from north London and the second half was being played out with an air of inevitability until that remarkable last quarter of an hour. – The Guardian