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Sunday, 19 February 2012

Tottenham held to FA Cup draw by third-tier Stevenage

London: Premier League title contenders Tottenham were held to a 0-0 draw in the FA Cup by third-tier side Stevenage on Sunday, when Stoke advanced to the quarter-finals with a 2-0 win at Crawley.

Spurs had a first-half goal by Louis Saha ruled out because of offside but were largely frustrated by an organized Stevenage team containing former Tottenham fringe players Chris Day and Ronnie Henry.

The hosts held firm against a strong Spurs line-up to guarantee a dream fifth-round replay tie in London at White Hart Lane, and even caused several moments of concern for Harry Redknapp's side.

Big chances were few and far between but Louis Saha saw his second-half strike chalked off after his effort went in off Scott Parker, who was standing in an offside position, and there were few other major talking points.

The hosts named an unchanged side from the one that beat Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday, with a fairly orthodox 4-4-2 formation being selected as Darius Charles partnered Chris Beardsley up front.

Despite putting out a relatively strong team, Redknapp made six changes from the team that recorded a 5-0 win over Newcastle in their last Premier League match. Carlo Cudicini replaced Brad Friedel, Ryan Nelsen came in for Ledley King and Younes Kaboul started in place of Benoit Assou-Ekotto. Further up the pitch, Jake Livermore started in the centre of midfield with Luka Modric ruled out through illness, Niko Kranjcar dropped to the bench for Danny Rose, and Jermaine Defoe came in with Emmanuel Adebayor given a rest.

It was clear from the first minute that Spurs weren’t going to be allowed to play their usual free-flowing football, with the hosts setting out to physically intimidate their Premier League superiors.

Chances were few and far between in the first half-hour, with Rose's low effort past the far post the closest either side came, but the match began to liven up in the attacking third as half-time approached.

Around the 30-minute mark Kyle Walker probably should have opened the scoring for the visitors as he put a header wide of the post from right under the crossbar following Rose’s good build-up play and cross from the left.

Soon after, Louis Saha had a great chance as he brilliantly chested down a high-ball into the penalty area but, as he pulled his left foot back to shoot, his boot was pulled off by the studs of a close-by defender, sending his shot well over.

Kaboul was the next Spurs player to go fairly close, smashing a free kick wide of the far post from the left wing. It was hit at quite ferocious pace, but whistled just past Chris Day’s left post.

There was still time for Stevenage to get a late chance too, but Beardsley couldn’t quite stoop low enough to connect with Luke Freeman’s corner and the two teams went into the break level, with the visitors far from out-classing their League One opponents.

After a lacklustre display in the first-half, Spurs came back out in the second period looking a little more focussed.

Gareth Bale, who had previously been poor, surged through the middle and shot from just outside the penalty area, but Day expertly got down to his left, tipping the effort round the post.

Nine minutes into the second-half, Spurs thought they had taken the lead as Saha found the net from yards out, but it was ruled out mid-celebration, with the linesman correctly highlighting that the ball went in off Scott Parker, who was stood in an offside position.

With the hosts still level, Joe Byrom went close from range, hammering a left-footed strike just wide of the top corner, but Cudicini appeared to know it was sailing past the post.

Moments later, Joel Byrom’s shooting was again causing problems, this time forcing Cudicini into a save, but the Italian made a bit of a mess of it and had to be bailed out by Ryan Nelsen.

Stevenage continued to have their fair share of possession, not looking even slightly in awe of the Premier League giants, but Saha managed to get another chance with just over 15 minutes to go. Bale marched down the right wing before cutting a ball back into the area for the Frenchman, but he could only get a tentative flick away with his heel and it was easily collected by Day.

After several changes from both sides, Spurs began to really press for the winner with the full-time whistle nearing, but they weren’t getting any luck in front of goal.

The introduction of Aaron Lennon injected some energy and speed back into the Spurs team and he set up a good chance for Defoe on the edge of the area, but his left-footed effort went harmlessly wide.

The two sides continued to press and attack as the match went on, but chances were rare and the hosts held firm to achieve the hard-fought 0-0 draw and now face a trip to White Hart Lane.

Redknapp said he hoped the superior pitch at his club's White Hart Lane stadium would work in the Premier League side's favor in the replay.

"The pitch was bumpy and the ball was bobbling everywhere," Redknapp said. "It was difficult to get the ball down and play on that pitch. It was very, very hard."

"This wasn't a game to get the ball down and play football. We started hitting it long and it was difficult to get that much going. We are still in the Cup and are at home now. It gives us a big chance but I wouldn't underestimate them by any chance."

The winner of the replay will play Bolton in the next round.

Meanwhile, Stoke - last season's runners-up - overcame an early red card to Rory Delap to beat fourth-tier side Crawley through a 42nd-minute penalty by Jonathan Walters and a 52nd-minute header from Peter Crouch.

Stoke join Sunderland, Liverpool, Bolton, Everton and Leicester in the quarter-finals.

Stoke will face Liverpool, Everton will play Sunderland, while the other March 17-18 quarter-final will be between Leicester and the winner of a replay between Chelsea and second-tier Birmingham.


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