Surprise, surprise, surprise League One Rochdale scored the equalizer in the 90th minute plus to secure a replay at Spurs house in The FA Cup fifth round. Steven Davies poked home the rock to stun Tottenham.
The Guardians Andy Hunter;” One last punt, one last chance for Rochdale to rescue the Wembley dream that had so cruelly been taken away when Harry Kane converted an 88th minute penalty for Tottenham. In it went, Spotland held its breath and the substitute Steve Davies held his nerve to drill a 93rd minute equaliser into the bottom corner and sent the team who are somehow bottom of League One to a date beneath the arch. Mauricio Pochettino patted the grizzly beard of Rochdale counterpart Keith Hill and exited down the tunnel. A fairytale ending, and thoroughly deserved.
This was the FA Cup in all its majesty. One of the most financially-stretched clubs in England stretched a team who had competed in the Champions League in midweek to the limit. A replay seemed to have been ripped from them when Harrison McGahey tripped Dele Alli late on and Kane, a fellow Tottenham substitute, converted the spot-kick on the ground where he made his professional debut. But Rochdale would not be denied. They had performed with spirit and no little quality throughout and when the ball broke for Davies inside a crowded penalty area in stoppage time only the most hard-hearted of Spurs supporters could have begrudged a precise finish into the bottom corner.
The replay will help Rochdale’s financial future. Performances of this calibre will also assist their fight to avoid relegation to League Two. Hill’s side were exemplary in giving Pochettino an unwanted replay but the Spurs manager can have few complaints.
The problems with a newly relaid pitch were immediately apparent as Toby Alderweireld lost his footing straight from kick-off and was rescued by an offside flag as Stephen Humphrys tried to capitalise on his slip. The tone for an uncomfortable afternoon in Lancashire for Tottenham had been set. Rochdale were entirely responsible for the troubles of the Premier League visitors, however, not a pitch that caused both teams the occasional difficulty but held up well in the main.
Hill had called the focus on Rochdale’s playing surface a sideshow. It was, he pointed out, always going to be relaid after several postponements had contributed to the club’s descent to the bottom of League One and hindered their commitment to positive, attractive football. Spurs quickly discovered that was no idle boast from a manager charged with keeping his club in existence, never mind in the division, as Rochdale played with style as well as spirit. The goal that brought a merited half-time lead and shook the very foundations of stadium typified a relentless and adventurous performance against opponents who had bossed Juventus in the Champions League only five days earlier.
Pochettino paused to sign autographs and hug his League One counter-part en route to the dug-out. His relaxed demeanour did not last long. Kane returned to the ground where he made his professional debut as a Leyton Orient loanee in 2011 among the Spurs’ substitutes. Alli, Eric Dier and Davinson Sánchez were also on the bench as the Spurs manager rested several key players after the midweek draw in Turin, albeit keeping them in the squad as insurance, and gave the £23m January signing Lucas Moura his first start.
The former Paris Saint Germain winger caused a few early problems with penetrating runs from deep while the link-up play between Fernando Llorente and Son Heung-min also tested the Rochdale defence. But they were alert to the Premier League side’s quick intentions and gave their midfield the confidence to play with composure. Gradually, remarkably, Rochdale emerged as the more threatening team in a first half that made a mockery of their lowly league position and the gulf between the two clubs.
Rochdale’s midfield trio of Andrew Cannon, Callum Camps and Mark Kitching were outstanding in their work-rate and distribution. Henderson was a 33-year-old dynamo of relentless energy and dangerous movement in attack. The central defence of Harrison McGahey, Jimmy McNulty and Ryan Delaney were concentrated and powerful, although a bit too much when McGahey clattered into Harry Winks from behind and somehow escaped a card. They could not contain Spurs entirely – really, how could they? – but the visitors only seriously tested Rochdale goalkeeper Josh Lillis once before the break. Lillis proved equal to Son’s low effort after the striker was put through by Llorente, who side-footed horribly wide when the South Korean returned the favour from the rebound.
The tie was played out amid a wonderful atmosphere that would have intensified earlier had Henderson converted two decent chances before his sixth goal in this season’s FA Cup arrived on the stroke of half-time. His first was placed too close to Spurs’ keeper Michel Vorm after Cannon had wrestled possession from Victor Wanyama in central midfield. His second was sliced across goal when picked out unmarked on the left of the Spurs penalty area. His third sight of goal produced a moment that will linger long in Rochdale’s history.
It stemmed from a pristine challenge by Camps to deny Moura inside the Rochdale penalty area. In an instant Hill’s team were on the counterattack and Cannon fired the perfect pass behind the visiting defence for the former Norwich forward, who almost quit the game to study dentistry five years ago, to side-foot a superb first-time finish into the bottom corner.
The Champions League guests were facing an examination of their character as well as their application and, in fairness, they responded to dominate the second half. Moura equalised in style on the hour when Llorente picked out his run into the area and he lifted an exquisite finish over the advancing Lillis for his first Tottenham goal. Wanyama missed a glorious opportunity when he volleyed over from two yards but his embarrassment appeared to have been spared when Kane put Spurs ahead with only moments remaining. Then came one final punt.