No victory is routine after being 2-0 down after seven minutes, but from that point on this was almost as comfortable evening as possible for Tottenham Hotspur. All Mauricio Pochettino wanted from this evening was to win in 90 minutes, to set up a fourth round tie with Leicester City and to keep as many of his players as possible fit for Saturday’s Premier League game with Sunderland, and the rest of their hectic January. This was Spurs’ fourth match this month, and they have another five left to play, including Leicester City here in the fourth round on 24 January.
Burnley have other concerns of their own, namely their brave scrap to stay in the division despite their paltry resources. But Sean Dyche made fewer changes than Pochettino did and his side began the game with the same brisk, assertive football they try to play every week. Marvin Sordell scored their first, Ross Wallace the deflected second and it briefly seemed as if they would achieve one of their best results of an already impressive season.
But while Spurs’ side did have an obvious problem at centre-back, where Younes Kaboul had been brought back in after more than one month on the sidelines, the rest of the team was impressive. Andros Townsend was the best player, always beating Ben Mee and setting up two of Spurs’ goals. Benjamin Stambouli and Etienne Capoue provided tempo and control in midfield and Danny Rose, moved up to the left wing, was always dangerous and scored the fourth goal.
Spurs killed the game with a brief flurry immediately after the re-start, scoring twice to go from 2-2 to 4-2 up. But they started the game disastrously, conceding twice before they realised what was going on. Of Pochettino’s eight changes the most notable was at centre-back, where Younes Kaboul returned for his first appearance for more than a month. Federico Fazio is Vertonghen’s preferred partner now and, on this evidence, it was not difficult to see why. Kaboul and Vertonghen never looked particularly happy together – they were openly arguing before half-time – and in the third minute they gifted Burnley the opening goal.
Kieran Tripper, Burnley’s right-back, hit a hopeful diagonal ball forward. There was far too much room between Kaboul and Vertonghen, the ball bounced unchallenged and Marvin Sordell raced onto it. Before Vertonghen could stop him, Sordell struck the ball left-footed on the bounce into the top corner. There was nothing Michel Vorm could do but wonder what had happened to his defence.
While Spurs were still getting their heads together, Burnley continued with their brisk, assertive football which has already been such a success this season. They moved the ball forward quickly again and Etienne Capoue could only foul Trippier 30 yards from goal. Ross Wallace shot, it hit Roberto Soldado in the wall and rolled away, past Vorm and into the net.
Only now, seven minutes and two goals in, did Tottenham start to play, the best of it coming through their right-winger. Townsend ran down the right, cut back and crossed with his left foot. Soldado flicked it on at the near post, Paulinho cushioned the ball, spun and volleyed in.
From this point on it was all Spurs. Their equaliser did not arrive until the final seconds of the first half but it was one-way traffic before then, with Soldado managing to miss one remarkably good chance. Tottenham were counter-attacking after a Burnley corner, Paulinho fed Soldado, who passed to Townsend and ran to the far post. Townsend found Soldado with his cross but, with an open goal and just three yards out, Soldado could only hit the bar.
It was the sort of miss that could suck the life out of a team and, as the teams walked off for half-time, Townsend put his arm round Soldado. But that was only after Spurs had pulled level, Ben Davies broke down the left and pulled a cross back. Paulinho could not connect but Etienne Capoue did, from 20 yards, and found the bottom corner. It had taken them 45 minutes but Spurs had made up for their early wobble.
They did not intend to spend another 45 minutes fighting. They have a Capital One Cup semi-final next week, and the week after, and they need to be efficient in their expense of energy. To that end, Spurs scored twice straight after the re-start and that was that. The first goal came from Vlad Chiriches, bundling in Townsend’s corner at the far post and colliding with the woodwork as he did so. The fourth and final goal was far more watchable: Stambouli spread the ball wide to Soldado, who carried it to the by-line and drove a cross in which Danny Rose met from close range. Rose was given an ovation as he was taken off soon after for Nacer Chadli ,and from there Spurs saw out the game. Soldado, who would have been desperate to make up for his first-half miss, shot straight at Heaton, but his team-mates were happy just to see the game out, wondering what all the early fuss had been about.
Man of the match Townsend.
Match rating 7/10.
Referee C Pawson (Yorkshire).
Revised fourth round draw and dates
Friday 23 January
Cambridge v Man United (7.55)
Saturday 24 January
Blackburn v Swansea (12.45)
Birmingham v West Bromwich
Cardiff v Reading
Chelsea v Bradford
Derby v Chesterfield
Man City v Middlesbrough
Preston v Sheffield United
Sunderland v Fulham
Tottenham v Leicester
Southampton v Crystal Palace
Liverpool v Bolton (5.30)
Sunday 25 January
Bristol City v West Ham (2.00)
Aston Villa v Bournemouth (3.00)
Brighton v Arsenal (4.00)
Monday 26 January
Rochdale v Stoke (8.00)
(Kick-offs 3pm unless stated)