Match Report: Clint Dempsey and Gareth Bale double act crush Coventry City's hopes of reliving the past against Tottenham Hotspur
Tottenham Hotspur 3 Coventry City 0
The 1987 FA Cup final this was not. For all
of those hoping for a repeat of the best final of the modern era, there was
just the mild frustration of a mismatch and a fair result.
Tottenham Hotspur and Coventry City are not on an equal footing any more. This game looked like what it was: third in the Premier League hosting 12th in League One. There was not much drama, tension, accident or, permit the word, magic.
There was just a strong Spurs side, led by Gareth Bale, who scored one and made two, and Clint Dempsey, who scored two and made one. They were 3-0 up at half-time and breezed into the fourth round.
"In the first half we were different class," Spurs' assistant manager, Steffen Freund, said afterwards. "The players deserved it, it was a great performance. We have won the cup eight times and we want to go all the way."
Spurs could also welcome back Scott Parker to their midfield for his first start of the season and Benoît Assou-Ekotto at full-back for his first since September. The quality of the hosts was simply too much.
"We knew it was going to be difficult," Coventry's manager, Mark Robins, reflected. "But when we saw the teamsheet we realised it was going to be even more difficult. We hoped they would hit a bit of a dip but they didn't.
"They are a real class act and the players were outstanding. It shows what we have to do to get up there."
Coventry came to White Hart Lane with the intention of frustrating Tottenham. Their 5,000 loud fans proudly reminded Spurs of the '87 final and cheered gleefully when Garry Mabbutt was brought on to the pitch at half-time. They did not get much new material for warming memories.
Their tight 4-4-1-1 system was well designed to limit the space available to Spurs' dangerous players. In open play it was effective for 12 minutes, but their focus had to be perfect and constant, and it was not.
Coventry failed to defend a free-kick and that, really, was that. Parker was needlessly tripped on the right-hand side. Gylfi Sigurdsson whipped the ball in, Bale flicked it on at the near post and Dempsey, grateful for the space, finished from close in.
It was a shame that Coventry's hard work would be let down by a failure of concentration rather than ability.
Once Spurs were ahead it was a different game. With the anxiety sucked out of the occasion, it became a simple test of technique, and at that Spurs were naturally superior. Bale was as threatening as ever and nearly scored the goal of the season when he collected the ball on the half-way line and burst past Carl Baker, Jordan Clarke, Steven Jennings, Richard Wood and William Edjenbuele before shooting inches wide of the far bottom corner.
Minutes later Bale had to settle for scoring a goal that was merely very good indeed. Like everything good Spurs did, it came from a combination between Bale and Dempsey. The American midfielder spun on the edge of the box and shot. When the ball deflected off Edjenbuele it flew high and wide and it was Bale who reacted first, volleying the ball in from a tight angle.
The best of the Bale and Dempsey double-act was yet to come, however. This time there was no third party, neither a Sigurdsson free-kick nor an Edjenbuele deflection. It was just the two of them and it was brilliant.
Bale swung over a high corner kick. Dempsey, at the far post, ran away from goal, suspended himself in the air and – with remarkable neck-power – headed the ball back over everyone and just inside the opposite corner of the goal.
Spurs' 3-0 lead at half-time was an accurate reflection of their superiority in terms of possession and chances. The second half, unfortunately, was not much of an event. Tottenham were not over-exerting themselves in pursuit of a fourth goal but did have chances from set-plays. Huddlestone's free-kick was headed wide by Steven Caulker before Bale clipped one just off-target from 20 yards.
Coventry's fans deserved something more current to celebrate and Robins's side did give them a flurry of chances to cheer. Leon Clarke shot wide, Conor Thomas was blocked by Caulker and Edjenbuele's header was saved by Brad Friedel. But that was as close as they got. Those old memories will have to do for a while longer.
Tottenham (4-2-3-1): Friedel; Naughton, Dawson, Caulker, Assou-Ekotto; Huddlestone, Parker (Dembele, 80); Sigurdsson (Carroll, 80), Dempsey, Bale (Townsend, 70) ; Adebayor.
Coventry (4-4-1-1): Murphy; Jordan Clarke, Wood, Edjenbuele, Adams; Baker, Bailey (Thomas, 59); Jennings (Fleck, 71), McSheffrey; Moussa (Barton, 51); Leon Clarke.
Referee: Michael Naylor.
Man of the match: Dempsey (Tottenham)
Match rating: 4/10
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