Paul Robinson completed a journey from zero to hero last night as he produced two top-class saves that allowed a Tottenham team increasingly distracted by the prospect of Sunday's Carling Cup final to struggle through this Uefa Cup round-of-32 tie and earn a meeting with PSV Eindhoven.
Recalled to the side and additionally honoured with the captain's armband, the keeper finished the evening hopeful of a place against Chelsea at Wembley and, who knows, perhaps even an England recall – Fabio Capello must have been impressed from his view in the stands – after denying Jaroslav Cerny after 35 minutes and then, crucially, turning away a powerful free-kick by substitute Milan Ivana with a quarter of an hour remaining.
"I just wanted to get back into the team and back on track," Robinson said after a match where the home side's poise and purpose had degenerated after an ideal start which left them 3-1 up on aggregate after just seven minutes thanks to the young midfielder Jamie O'Hara's first goal for the club. "I'd like to think I'll be playing at Wembley. I hope so."
The Spurs manager, Juande Ramos, refused to be drawn on whether he would retain Robinson at the expense of Radek Cerny, whose late fumble in Prague allowed Slavia to reduce Tottenham's first-leg lead to a single goal, but he was happy to praise his keeper. "He has not played for some time," Ramos said, "and I think he gave a magnificent performance."
But Ramos accepted that scoring the first goal had made a few of his players "relax a little bit", adding: "We suffered in the second half."
When O'Hara drove home an opener that deflected off defender Martin Latka it seemed that a Tottenham side that had begun with Jermaine Jenas, Steed Malbranque and Robbie Keane on the bench were in for a relatively relaxed cup final warm-up. By the end, however, with all three onlookers called into urgent action, Spurs and their whistling supporters were desperate for the proceedings to be brought to a halt.
Spurs missed numerous chances to double their lead before Slavia equalised five minutes into the second half. Darren Bent saw a header tipped on to the crossbar, and half-time substitute Keane pulled a shot wide just 40 seconds after taking to the field.
That miss swiftly became more important as Daniel Pudil's cross from the left wing was turned in by Matej Krajcik as he got goalside of Teemu Tainio. It could easily have got worse for Spurs as Frantisek Drizdal directed a 62nd-minute header straight at Robinson and, five minutes later, Marek Suchy drove a shot against the post.
Even after Bent had seen a second effort diverted on to the bar in the 84th minute, Spurs were still living dangerously. Then again – when was it ever different?
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Robinson; Tainio, Kaboul, Woodgate, Chimbonda (Malbranque, 61); Lennon (Jenas, 70), Huddlestone, Zokora, O'Hara; Berbatov (Keane, 45), Bent. Substitutes not used: Cerny (gk), Young Pyo Lee, Taarabt, Rocha.
Slavia Prague (4-4-2): Vorel; Drizdal (Volesak, 81), Laka, Brabec, Hubacek; Krajcik (Belaid, 87), Kalivoda (Ivana, 45), Suchy, Pudil; Stihavka, Cerny. Substitutes not used: Vaniak (gk), Tavares, Sourek.
Referee: J Eriksson (Sweden).
Last 16 draw
Anderlecht v Bayern Munich
Rangers v Werder Bremen
Bolton v Sporting Lisbon
B Leverkusen v Hamburg
Getafe v Benfica
Fiorentina v Everton
Tottenham Hotspur v PSV Eindhoven
Olympique Marseilles v Zenit St Petersburg
Ties to be played on 6 March and 12/13 MarchReuse content