Tottenham take their time before dispatching Aston Villa
Meeting of clubs with 15 FA Cups between them sees Spurs knock out fallen giants
Ben Davies opened the scoring for Tottenham Hotspur in their 2-0 win over Aston Villa. Photograph: Afp/Ben Stansall
It says much about Aston Villa’s recent decline that a goalless draw with Tottenham Hotspur would constitute an FA Cup shock. Not the greatest but one nonetheless and, as this game drifted towards its conclusion it appeared as if Steve Bruce’s side were going to achieve just that. The team chasing promotion from the Championship had defended stubbornly and with discipline against the one chasing the Premier League title and looked to have shut them out altogether, only for two late goals to shatter their resistance and send a wave of relief through this stadium.
Ben Davies and Heung-Min Son’s strikes were neatly taken and, on the balance of play, Tottenham deserved to proceed to the fourth round at the expense of a team who for so long were top-flight rivals. The hosts dominated possession and territory yet, having made nine changes to the team that beat Chelsea so impressively here four days ago, Mauricio Pochettino had to watch on as his side struggled to make an impact until the closing stages. He looked as relieved as most in attendance when Son sealed the victory – Spurs’s sixth in succession – with 10 minutes to play.
For Steve Bruce this was an ultimately frustrating afternoon but his focus remain on getting Villa back into the Premier League at the first time of asking and, with them currently 12th in the Championship and seven points adrift of the play-offs, it may actually be a blessing that they have failed to make the fourth round for the first time since 2014.
Among the four changes Bruce made to the Villa line-up was a debut for the goalkeeper Sam Johnstone following his arrival on loan from Manchester United and the 23-year-old had little to do during the opening stages. Spurs were struggling to build any rhythm through their build-up play, which was perhaps not a surprise given the changes to their line-up. Meanwhile the visitors, arranged in a 4-1-4-1 formation, were content to defend deep and move the ball with minimum risk. Stationed as a lone centre-forward, Gabriel Agbonlahor was a noticeably isolated figure against Spurs’ back three, with the former Villa captain given just his third start of the season following the departure of Jonathan Kodjia and Jordan Ayew to the Africa Cup of Nations.
It was Villa who had the first shot of the game, a long-range drive from Leandro Bacuna that was comfortably grasped by Michel Vorm, and the fact it came on 29 minutes said everything about a contest which was in danger of sending those in attendance, as well as those watching at home, into a Sunday afternoon snooze.
The onus was on Spurs to liven up proceedings yet their build-up play remained too passive against a packed defence, leading to frustration among their supporters and no doubt their own lone centre forward Vincent Janssen, who, selected in place of Harry Kane, would have seen this game as a golden opportunity to get his first goal from open play since joining the club from AZ Alkmaar in the summer. Instead he struggled to impose himself, the lack of service to the 22-year-old, as well as his own movement, chronic during an opening half in which even that most flamboyant of referees Mike Dean cut a subdued figure.
Janssen was involved in the move that almost led to Spurs opening the scoring close to half-time, playing a one-two with Son that resulted in the South Korean unleashing a shot at goal that took a deflection of Jordan Amavi before drifting out for a corner.
The pair linked up again a minute into the second half with Janssen this time having the shot on goal. His drive from the right was easily held by Johnstone, however, and the Villa keeper did not have to react at all five minutes later when Son found himself with time and space following Kevin Trippier’s cross to the back post but badly miscued his attempt, allowing James Chester to clear the danger.
Tottenham were by now playing at a higher tempo but Villa continued to stand firm and, as such, it came as no surprise to see Pochettino bring on Dele Alli in a bid to break the deadlock, as he had done against Chelsea in midweek. Janssen was the man he replaced. The striker’s personal torture goes on.
If Alli’s arrival was meant to galvanise Tottenham then it had the opposite effect as Villa suddenly injected some intent into their play. Opposition bodies moved forward and on 65 minutes they came close to scoring. Spurs failed to clear a free-kick into their area and the ball eventually dropped to Agbonlahor, whose shot at the near post looked to be heading in only for Toby Alderweireld to slide across and make a well-timed block.
And that proved a crucial moment as five minutes later Tottenham took the lead. Alli played a pass out to the left wing where Georges-Kévin Nkoudou, having come on a minute earlier for Alderweireld, struck a cross towards the centre of the area where Davies was waiting to glance it into the far corner. It was the Welshman’s first goal for Tottenham since his arrival from Swansea in July 2014 and he did well to make the connection given Nkoudou’s delivery was a little behind him.
Soon after it was 2-0 as Son finally got on the scoresheet, sweeping home a shot from close-range following good link-up play between Sissoko and Tripper down Tottenham’s right-hand side.