Manchester City's proud 100 per cent home record this season finally fell last night in a rousing Carling Cup quarter-final full of controversy and drama.
Shrouded in doubt though Tottenham Hotspur's early breakthrough appeared to be, it should not detract from a superb performance in which the visitors not only coped for 69 minutes with 10 men but also added to their lead.
Not that Jermain Defoe particularly enjoyed the experience. His fifth goal of the season was a bright enough moment in his now stop-start White Hart Lane career but he then became the fall guy in the substitution that followed Steve Bennett's questionable decision to send off the stand-in central defender Didier Zokora for an ill-advised challenge on the fit-again Elano.
Three other Spurs players were booked in the first half and this was a contest that could well have turned sour for them. That they regrouped and kept City largely at arms' length is to their great credit in a season of ever-increasing hope.
Bennett did not emerge with the same flying colours. He showed leniency over a stronger case for a red card and denied City what seemed a genuine penalty deep in the second half.
"It wasn't a sending-off, not in a game like this," said Juande Ramos, the Spurs manager. "A cup tie generates a heated atmosphere, and the referee has to be a bit more flexible. It was unfair."
But the Spaniard was otherwise more than satisfied with his side's performance, labelling it the best since his arrival in north London in October. "It is a positive result and sets us up for the rest of the season," he said. "To come away with a 2-0 victory will stand us in good stead and help the mind-set of the players. Given the circumstances, it has to be the best performance since I took charge. We were away from home against a team like Manchester City, who are high in the league and on a good run of form at home. Not only that, we were a man down from the 20th minute yet still managed to get through. We got our just rewards."
Spurs had never lost at Eastlands and were ahead inside five minutes. Jermaine Jenas' threaded pass inside Javier Garrido was followed by a low centre of equal penetration by Aaron Lennon but Defoe looked offside when applying an easy final touch. If the finish to that classically simple move was dubious, there was no doubting Tottenham's early supremacy, a wonderful build-up carrying the probability of another goal until Vedran Corluka cut out a Steed Malbranque pass destined for the unmarked Defoe.
When Spurs' momentum was checked, it was by officialdom rather than by City. Zokora's tackle on Elano was two-footed but far from dangerous given that his studs were so low. Nevertheless, a red card was produced a punishment that should have been repeated when Malbranque caught Corluka with a two-footed challenge that was reckless. This time, yellow was deemed sufficient.
Spurs did not waste time responding to the numerical readjustment by strengthening their already weakened back four. On at right-back went Teemu Tainio, with Defoe departing. His head-shaking exit was understandable, so too the gesture he made to the bench to show that it was he, after all, whose name was on the score-sheet. "Defoe understands the change was tactical. He knows we had to bring on an extra defender," said Ramos.
Dimitar Berbatov might have added a second before the inevitable City response came. Either side of half-time, there were close escapes for Tottenham as Elano fired wide when superbly set up by Garrido and Martin Petrov, and Paul Robinson magnificently turned over a Darius Vassell header.
Tottenham, having come into the tie with the excellent record under their new manager, Ramos, of six victories and three draws from 10 games, were standing up well to the challenge of preventing City turning a half-time deficit into victory for the second time in four days.
Pascal Chimbonda clattered unpunished into Richard Dunne then headed tamely when unmarked at a corner. Petrov sent an effort dipping narrowly over after a neat side-step as the spectre of defeat increasingly haunted a City side who had reeled off an incredible 10 successive home wins under Eriksson in all competitions.
But, after a brilliant Robinson save from a Rolando Bianchi header, City's lingering hopes were sunk by a classic goal on the break eight minutes from time. Berbatov's pass to the left set up rookie substitute Jamie O'Hara to hit a tremendous long diagonal pass from which Malbranque cut inside Dunne and slid coolly past Joe Hart. It was the final act in a tremendous team display.
Manchester City (4-3-3): Hart; Corluka, Dunne, Richards, Garrido (Ball, 76); Johnson, Hamann (Geovanni, 59), Elano; Vassell (Mpenza, 67), Bianchi, Petrov. Substitutes not used: Isaksson (gk), Fernandes.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Robinson; Chimbonda, Zokora, Kaboul, Lee; Lennon (O'Hara, 72), Jenas, Boateng, Malbranque (Huddlestone, 88); Berbatov, Defoe (Tainio, 23). Substitutes not used: Cerny (gk), Taarabt.
Referee: S Bennett (Kent).Reuse content