Tottenham Hotspur's home troubles might not be wholly solved, based on this, but at least they gave their fans something exciting and enjoyable after an exhausting 8-7 penalty shoot-out win over Hull City. Reaching the quarter-finals of the Capital One Cup - where Spurs will host West Ham United - should not have been this difficult.
Over the first two hours of tiring, competitive football, which was drawn 2-2, Spurs started well, taking the lead with a brilliant Gylfi Sigurdsson goal. But Hull, switching from massed defence to gung-ho cup football, equalised and went ahead. They were 12 minutes away from a place in the quarter-finals before Harry Kane equalised and the shoot-out was probably the most surprising part of the whole night; Spurs winning on spot-kicks for the first time since 1994.
“If you want to see predictable endings, or happy endings, go to the opera or the theatre,” said Andre Villas-Boas afterwards, revelling in the fact that his players had scored eight out nine spot-kicks despite not practicing them for months. “That is the nature of football.” Erik Lamela was the only man to miss but the rest were all perfect, even into four rounds of sudden death, before Ahmed Elmohamady hit his straight at Brad Friedel and Spurs went through.
Villas-Boas was understandably relieved after coming through an evening that nearly went very badly. After his comments on Sunday night, following the 1-0 defeat of Hull in the Premier League, the fans were behind the team, but there was some disquiet at half-time in extra-time, when it looked like Spurs might go out. The fact that Spurs turned it round, and went through, Villas-Boas ascribed to the crowd giving the support he had always hoped for.
“The supporters today were absolutely fantastic for us,” Villas-Boas said, “to see us suffer the setbacks of 1-1 and 2-1 and to see their response was very pleasant - they can make that difference for us. The atmosphere was excellent because the supporters really want to bond with this team.”
For the first half, before they lost their grip, Spurs did put on a good show. With Bruce sticking with his 5-4-1 system that ought to have earned him a point on Sunday afternoon, Spurs had the task again of picking their way through.
They looked, from the start, brighter and sharper than they had in the league game, pressing the ball harder and passing it faster. Younes Kaboul and Jan Vertonghen, two real tempo-setters, were paired at centre-back for just the second time this season.
There was pressure on the Hull defence and Paulinho dragged a shot just wide but what broken them open, in the end, was a piece of individual skill that would have beaten any team currently playing the game. Kyle Naughton, at left back, passed the ball to Gylfi Sigurdsson, 25 yards out and with his back to goal. With one movement, Sigurdsson trapped the ball, dragged it back and spun towards goal and away from Curtis Davies. That was brilliant enough, regardless of what followed but, as it happened, Sigurdsson drove the ball right-footed into the near top corner of the net. No better individual goal will be scored at White Hart Lane this season.
Spurs could not find a second, though, and it was Bruce who took the initiative, withdrawing defender Alex Bruce for striker Nick Proschwitz after 33 minutes. It nearly made a swift difference, as Friedel palmed out Elmohamady's volley and needed Kaboul diving in to stop Danny Graham from converting.
In the second half, though, Hull were far superior, forcing Spurs back with aggressive, fearless cup football. Aaron McLean had replaced Danny Graham and his energy was obvious, dragging a shot just wide with his first touch.
Spurs were unsettled, though, and soon helped their guests to an equaliser. George Boyd's backheel freed Elmohamady down the right and his cross to the far post found Curtis Davies with an open goal. He, somehow, could only skew the ball back to Friedel, who did what Davies could not and clumsily diverted the ball into the net. In the 42-year-old's long professional career, this was not his finest hour. McLean could have made it 2-1 but headed Stephen Quinn's cross over the bar.
“We made it into a cup tie and put two up front,” Bruce explained. “It was tough towards the end but they're a delight to manage, for their effort, after what happened here, and, for me, they deserve to be in the hat.”
Villas-Boas threw on Vlad Chiriches, Nacer Chadli - for 10 minutes - and Harry Kane, and the youngster's shot against the bar in added time was the closest they came to scoring in a second half in which they had the momentum wrested from them.
In extra time, Hull continued to push and eventually took the lead. McLean forced a corner, Boyd took it and Paul McShane leaped past Chiriches to meet the ball, heading it past Friedel and into the roof of the net.
That could have been it but Spurs - who might prefer chasing games - came back and Kane held off McShane on the edge of the box and shot into the bottom corner. They could not be separated over two hours of football and so it was penalty kicks which had to do instead.
Man of the match Sigurdsson.
Match rating 7/10.
Referee Jonathan Moss (Horsforth).
Quarter-final draw Leicester v Man City, Stoke v Manchester United, Sunderland/Southampton v Chelsea, Tottenham v West Ham.