Tottenham's revival continues, but none of the Premiership rivals that they have recently overcome had given them more problems than Brighton did in this real, fulfilling and finally thrillingly won Cup tie.
The Championship side had come with a glowing reputation for being stubborn in midfield and defence. The evidence was in their alignment, five in the middle. Spurs found themselves struggling to secure space there, and within the opening 15 minutes could have been a couple of goals in arrears.
By far the most impressive strike of that period came when Richard Carpenter met a well-flighted cross-field ball from Charlie Oatway and hit a huge 25-yard drive against the crossbar. Prior to that, Leon Knight had tested Spurs' goalkeeper, Paul Robinson, with a low shot that was difficult to handle but competently saved.
The tightness of the Brighton midfield at that stage was formidable. Spurs hardly had a convincing chance until the 31st minute, when Stephen Kelly headed productively forward in the penalty area and Robbie Keane's header clipped the bar.
Brighton deserved that escape, but seven minutes later they fell to a set-piece ploy after having survived everything Spurs had thrown at them in open competition. Michael Brown fed a short corner to Reto Ziegler, and his centre found Ledley King positioned in the centre of the penalty area and therefore well placed to loop a header over Michel Kuipers.
Brighton's spirit was not subdued. Two minutes into the second half Spurs conceded a free-kick just outside the penalty area to the right of Robinson's goal.
Knight stepped over the ball and the outstanding Carpenter was confronted by a flimsy looking wall which he beat with a powerful, low and accurate kick that had Robinson totally beaten.
Remarkably, considering that he was head and shoulders shorter than King and Anthony Gardner, Knight was extraordinarily effective, challenging them physically and often beating them both for pace. His diminutive leadership did much to keep Brighton optimistic. A free-kick sent into the middle by Kerry Mayo was headed purposefully on by Gary Hart, and Robinson had to excel with a superb reflex save.
Not to be outdone, Kuipers between the Brighton posts then saved his side from a certain goal. Pedro Mendes, now famed for his speculative long-range shooting, flew one from 30 yards, but Kuipers flung himself across the goal- line to turn the ball away for nothing more damaging than a corner.
That it took Spurs 82 minutes to look like the ascendant team was a great tribute to Brighton. Nevertheless, the Seagulls were finally brought down by a splendid match-winner. The Spurs substitute Michael Yeates, who last year was on loan to Brighton, lifted the ball across the penalty area filled by his old colleagues. It was still high when it came to Keane, who turned and somehow volleyed in to stop Spurs sweating.
"We know good players can do that even when the team's not playing well," said the Brighton manager, Mark McGhee. He should know. He gave Keane his debut when they were both at Wolves.
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