Harry Redknapp admitted it felt strange, reaching the fourth round of the FA Cup before serious inroads had even been made into the third. But cup ties and Tottenham Hotspur have long been comfortable bedfellows and last night Redknapp's team put their struggling league form to one side as they dispatched a patched-up Wigan who simply did not have enough armoury.
Both managers would probably attach more importance to their league meeting a week tomorrow, but having experienced what it was like to capture the FA Cup with Portsmouth last May, Redknapp fielded almost his strongest available team with only Ledley King and Aaron Lennon rested, the latter among the substitutes.
Spurs were without key players but not as many as Wigan who were missing no fewer than six, not least Amr Zaki , one of the revelations of the season with 10 goals, Emile Heskey and Chris Kirkland, replaced by Ghana international Richard Kingson who was making his debut at the age of 30.
After a run of five matches without a win, Tottenham needed a boost but had little to crow about in the first half during which there were half-chances for both sides but nothing notable other than Darren Bent limping off, leaving Redknapp with only two fit strikers at his disposal.
But one of them, Roman Pavlyuchenko, came to his team's rescue, enjoying a superb second half. The Russian opened the scoring by slotting home a coolly taken penalty after Fraizer Campbell had his heels clipped by Kingson. Luca Modric headed home the second after Jamie O'Hara's fierce drive struck a post and although Henri Camara halved the deficit late on to ensure a nail-biting finale, Pavlyuchenko had the final say with a superb strike after a great run by Didier Zokora.
Although Premier League survival remains their number one objective, Spurs will take heart from beating a side who are arguably the form team in the country having won five of their last six league starts. Next up comes the small matter of next week's Carling Cup semi-final against Burnley and a chance, as holders, to return to Wembley.
Redknapp will use a rare weekend off to go and watch his next opponents at Queen's Park Rangers today. But he is increasingly worried about his side's lack of depth, with Bent likely to be out for a while. "There is such a shortage of numbers," said Redknapp. "We need three or four because of the amount of games we have." Tottenham have reportedly made a bid to bring Jermain Defoe, whose name was again chanted to the rooftops by the fans, back from Portsmouth but although the two club chairmen have spoken, Redknapp said they were "miles apart" in their valuation.
With his squad needing reinforcements, it did not help Redknapp that he had to change his mind about sending on Hassam Ghaly for Modric late on after an outburst of collective booing towards the Egyptian. It all goes back to May 2007, when Ghaly threw his shirt on the ground in disgust after being substituted against Blackburn. He has never, it seems, been forgiven. "I didn't know anything about it," said Redknapp. "When the crowd started shouting abuse I couldn't risk it. I felt sorry for him because everyone makes mistakes but we needed all the support we could get. I didn't want to change the atmosphere. It could have had a terrible effect on the team."
Steve Bruce was magnanimous in defeat but was not happy about Tottenham's second goal, scored when substitute left back Maynor Figueroa was injured. "It changed the game," said Bruce. "I don't blame the Tottenham players but the rule has become farcical. With my big hitters, I think it might have been a different scenario tonight. But I think we'll see a different Wigan in 10 days' time."
Tottenham (4-4-2): Gomes; Corluka, Dawson, Woodgate, Bale, Bentley, Zokora, Modric (Lennon 90), O'Hara, Bent (Campbell, 27), Pavlyuchenko. Substitutes not used: Alnwick (gk), Ghaly, Gunter, Taarabt, Boateng.
Wigan (4-4-1-1) Kingson; Boyce, Bramble, Scharner (Figueroa, 73), Kilbane, Valencia, Palacios, Brown, De Ridder (Cywka, 74), Kapo (Edman, 84), Camara. Substitutes not used: Pollitt (gk), Taylor, Routledge, Holt.
Referee: A Wiley (Staffs)