Stoke City’s valiant Carabao Cup run came to an end on a wet and windy night in the Potteries as Tottenham Hotspur displayed the gulf in class between the two teams and booked their place in the semi-finals.
Stoke had already beaten two Premier League teams in their path to the quarter final, but came into the last eight clash facing an ongoing injury crisis, with a number of first teamers still on the sidelines. The most notable exclusions from the squad came in the form of John Obi-Mikel, Sam Clucas and Josef Bursik, with the two midfielders missing out due to injury and the latter cup-tied from his time at Doncaster earlier in the season. City still had ‘keepers Davies, Gunn and Maenpaa out, as well as star man Tyrese Campbell and Welsh international Joe Allen, who played for the first time since March in a PL2 game earlier in the week.
Michael O’Neill made six changes from a 1-0 win against Blackburn on Saturday, and his weakened line-up reflected just how hectic the schedule had become for the Potters. The boss reverted to a 343 formation, and included Lonergan, Batth, McClean, Smith, Thompson and former Spurs man Oakley-Boothe, who replaced Bursik, Chester, Tymon, Powell, Ince and Fletcher. It was to be ‘keeper Andy Lonergan’s debut for the Potters since joining on an emergency contract in November.
An almighty test awaited for the Potters, as they hoped to reach the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup for the first time since the 2015/16 season, where they lost on aggregate to Liverpool.
Spurs came into the game off the back of a 2-0 home defeat against Leicester in the Premier League, but were undoubtedly favourites in this match due to their Premier League status and the obvious prowess they held over the Potters. Spurs had last reached the semis of the competition in 2018/19, and saw this as a brilliant chance to make the last four yet again. Jose Mourinho had made it clear that he wanted to lead his team to their first League Cup triumph, and first trophy of any sort, since 2008.
The Spurs’ coach started a mix of his usual sub players, along with some of his ever-present starters. It was still a strong lineup, with seven changes from the previous defeat. Sanchez, Davies, Doherty, Winks, Lucas, Dele and Bale all came in for Alderweireld, Reguilon, Aurier, Sissoko, Lo Celso, Ndombele and Son.
It was the first matchup between the teams since Stoke’s relegation from the Premier League in 2018. The visitors would fancy their chances after winning the last five games between the sides, scoring 19 goals to Stoke’s two. Harry Kane had notched nine of those goals, and would look to again increase his tally against the Potters.
📸 The scene is 𝘀𝗲𝘁.
— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) December 23, 2020
Tottenham began the game kicking towards the Boothen End, and started on the front foot as expected. Spurs’ first chances came as some crosses were flung into the Lonergan’s box, but it was to no avail with Stoke surviving the early pressure.
Harry Kane was first to test the debutant keeper after being played through by Bale, but the former Liverpool man parried the Englishman’s strike away easily.
City had been well structured in defence after a quarter of an hour, but had hardly had a foot on the ball in the Spurs’ half, or at all for that matter.
After 20 minutes of probing the Stoke box, it was an inevitable first goal for the visitors that opened the scoring. Harry Winks delivered a sumptuous diagonal ball into the danger zone, and it was a guided header from Gareth Bale that found its way past Lonergan and into the far corner. It was a deserved lead for the visitors, and possibly a sign of things to come. Bale had scored in consecutive League Cup appearances for Spurs, with his last game and goal in the competition coming eight years and 53 days ago against Norwich City in October 2012.
That was the first goal Stoke had conceded in the competition so far, with Michael O’Neill’s men keeping a clean sheet in every round up to this game. The goal also ended City’s run of three consecutive games without conceding.
The first substitute came just after the half hour mark, as City’s injury woes were compounded yet again. Left back Fox pulled up holding his hamstring, and Michael O’Neill saw this as a chance to change his tactics. McClean slotted in at Fox’s wing-back spot, and Steven Fletcher entered the pitch as Stoke looked to cause some problems for the Spurs defence.
The Premier League outfit continued to enjoy long spells of possession, and Lonergan had to produce a fine save from the out-of-favour Dele Alli, after the attacker had found himself one on one in the box. Stoke were simply looking to see out the half without conceding again, but it was fair to say that Spurs were not their usual clinical selves.
Half Time: Stoke City 0-1 Tottenham Hotspur
— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) December 23, 2020
As the half-time whistle was blown, Stoke knew they would need a big 45 minutes in the second period to be able to get any joy from the game. Spurs had enjoyed 73% possession and had taken seven shots to City’s zero in the first half, a real sign of just how one-sided the action had been.
Jose Mourinho would expect more of the same from his players, and would want to wrap up the result without any shocks on a wet, windy night in Stoke.
In a clear statement of his intent, the Spurs boss decided to bring on star man Heung-min Son at half time, with goalscorer Bale the man to make way. That would not be a welcome sight for Stoke, with the Korean being in electric form so far this season.
Referee Darren England was called into action in the first couple of minutes of the second-half, but waved away Lucas’ penalty claims after the Brazilian had gone down under Danny Batth’s challenge.
With all the odds stacked against them, Stoke knew that the next goal was crucial. With that in mind, the hosts first shot of the match produced the equaliser that they had craved after just eight minutes of the second half. Steven Fletcher began a rare breakaway, with a through ball that set Jacob Brown off on the right flank. The winger was quick to swing a deep cross into the box, and his ball was met by the onrushing Jordan Thompson, who dispatched with a first-time shot into Lloris’ near post and wheeled away in celebration.
It was a goal that came against the run of play, but neither Thompson, nor the Potters fans watching from home, would care. It was also the 23 year-old’s first goal for the club since joining in January, and what a time to get it.
The game began to open up after the leveller, and Stoke finally began to see more of the ball. Despite this, their game plan from now on would be clear – defend, defend, defend.
Spurs had looked largely toothless upfront in the second half, but took the lead once again with seventy minutes gone. After keeping his opposite number Kane largely quiet, Harry Souttar’s poor clearance was pounced upon by Welsh fullback Ben Davies, who took one touch and rocketed a shot into the bottom right corner, finding the net via the post. It was a big goal for Tottenham, as the game had just looked to be drifting away from Mourinho’s men. They would now look to see out the game with no qualms, and possibly even add to their tally.
Son thought he had extended the Spurs lead just six minutes later, but his chipped finish was ruled out for offside after Kane had played him through on goal. Replays showed that the Korean was actually onside, and Stoke had got away with a poor decision from the linesman. It was a blatant reminder of the well-publicised decision by the EFL to not use VAR in their cup competitions.
Nevertheless, the visitors did not take long to wrap the game up, and it was a customary goal against Stoke for Harry Kane. Goalscorer Thompson gave the ball away cheaply in the midfield, and Sissoko was able to play in Kane who shrugged off a challenge from Souttar and fired past Lonergan for his 16th of the season. It was far too easy for Spurs, but they had finally found the knockout blow to dispatch of their awkward opponents.
Stoke’s first real chance since their goal came with five minutes left, as Steven Fletcher put a header wide from Tommy Smith’s cross. The Scot would be disappointed with the effort, as it was a chance he would normally put away.
The game began to peter out in the final minutes, but Stoke, to their credit, kept trying for another goal right upto the last. Both Vokes and Smith had chances to score in added time, but to no avail.
The full time whistle came, and it was Tottenham that emerged victorious on the night. Jose Mourinho’s side had booked their place in the Carabao Cup Semi Finals with relative ease in the end.
Full Time: Stoke 1-3 Tottenham Hotspur
MOTM: Harry Winks
On the balance of the game, it was a deserved win for Spurs, but one that they knew could have got away from them had they not put their chances away when they did.
Michael O’Neill and his players have a lot to be proud of from their run in the competition, and will hope that they can kick on and keep the pressure on the top six in the Championship in the second half of the season. The Potters had seen off both Wolves and Aston Villa on the way to the quarters, so will know full well that they can challenge teams above them in the months and years to come.
Tonight didn't go our way, but how well has this team done to go this far?
— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) December 23, 2020
Many will feel that with a full strength side on the field, things may have been different for the Potters, but it cannot be denied that Spurs were the better side on the night. They displayed the gulf in class between the sides in expert fashion.
Jose Mourinho will hope a win can kick his team back into gear after not winning in the previous three, with Spurs now going into some big matches in the coming weeks in their quest to challenge for the Premier League title. He will see the Carabao Cup as his best chance to win his first piece of silverware at the club, and end Spurs’ well-documented 12-year wait for a trophy.
Stoke take the defeat into an away game against Coventry on Boxing Day, as they sit seventh in the Championship. Spurs will face Wolves at Molineux on the 27th, with Mourinho’s men sitting sixth in the Premier League. They will face one of Brentford, Manchester City, Manchester United or Everton in the semi-finals of the cup.
Match report by Oliver Walton.