The wonder of Juande. It has taken Tottenham's new manager just four months to end his club's nine-year wait for a trophy but for Spurs yesterday at Wembley it was about a whole lot more than just winning the Carling Cup.
This was the proof that Spurs, and their inspired manager Juande Ramos, can do more than just mix it with the big beasts of the Premier League. They can conquer them too.
The Football League's cheap fizzy lager trophy served up another champagne English cup final yesterday, in every one of the tense 120 minutes, that was decided by Jonathan Woodgate's winner in the first half of extra time. But it meant so much more to Spurs, because this was not the Arsenal kids or a half-interested Manchester United they beat, it was the full might of Chelsea. Ramos was tactically perfect and his players delivered in style.
For his Chelsea counterpart, Avram Grant, this was the defeat that not even his relative success in the Premier League will erase quickly. Tactically, he was slower to react than Ramos, even once Didier Drogba had given Chelsea a first-half lead, although this was no ordinary Chelsea performance. Frank Lampard was outstanding, John Terry too. Chelsea had the players to win but their formation was fundamentally ill conceived. Stuck out on the left wing, Nicolas Anelka was anonymous.
Grant deferred to Steve Clarke for the team talk after full-time and scratched his head while Terry did the same 15 minutes later – this was not the Israeli's finest hour. For Ramos, however, it was business as usual – this was the former Seville manager's sixth knockout trophy in the space of 21 months. Six minutes before Dimitar Berbatov's penalty brought Spurs back into the game, their manager made the switch that changed his team and, ultimately, the course of the game.
Audere est Facere as they say at White Hart Lane – or, to your average bloke on the Tottenham High Road, "To dare is to do". Yesterday Ramos took the old club motto literally. With a two-man attack of Robbie Keane and Berbatov it was the Spurs' manager's triumph of belief that his team could take the game to Chelsea. As the club's owner, Roman Abramovich, will have learnt yesterday, £578m buys a lot, but it does not necessarily include the courage to make difficult decisions in critical moments.
Never in recent memory has the Carling Cup made a group of supporters so absurdly happy as it did Tottenham's yesterday. This, they had to hope, was the start of something new and exciting even if their team, at times, took them to the brink of all that they could bear. His knee may be giving way beneath him but Ledley King, back for the first time since the Arsenal semi-final second leg, was commanding. Woodgate too. And Jermaine Jenas looked as much like an international midfielder as Lampard or Michael Essien.
But this final will be remembered for the change Ramos made after the hour that turned the game. His team were a goal down to Chelsea and it had reached the stage when the ruthless blue machine looked liable to squeeze the life from Spurs and close out the match in that remorseless style of theirs. Ramos summoned Tom Huddlestone from the bench, moved Steed Malbranque to left-back and switched Aaron Lennon to the left where he at last came alive.
The man to depart was Pascal Chimbonda, who proved himself again to be a charmless character by stalking straight down the tunnel. No prizes for guessing who was at the centre of the celebrations come the end of the game.
The substitution gave Tottenham fresh impetus, Lennon took the right side of Chelsea's defence by storm and Huddlestone won them a penalty. Grant froze. By the time he did the smart thing – got Joe Cole on and switched to 4-4-2 – his team were a goal behind and losing the battle.
The opening 30 minutes were cagey, but Spurs looked the more ambitious. Chimbonda's header struck the bar before Drogba's goal six minutes before half-time set them the sternest of challenges. The man at fault when Drogba stroked home a free-kick from 25 yards? Paul Robinson once again. The reinstated Tottenham goalkeeper made some heroic saves in the closing stages but again the lingering fear was that when it comes to the basic principles of goalkeeping he makes basic mistakes.
With Fabio Capello in the stands, Robinson was positioned directly behind the defensive wall with no sight of the kick Drogba struck with his instep to curl the ball into the bottom left-hand corner of Spurs' goal. It felt like the softest of goals to give away and the powerhouses in the centre of Chelsea's midfield were beginning to tell on Jenas and Didier Zokora until Ramos made his crucial changes just after the hour. Then Spurs were unleashed.
Moments before Spurs' equaliser, a saving challenge by King on Anelka after Lampard played him in kept the game alive. Then, from the left, Lennon hit a cross toward the far side of the area where Huddlestone and Wayne Bridge contested the ball at chest height. Trapped between the two players the ball ricocheted off both but, critically, struck Bridge on the arm. The referee, Mark Halsey, relied on the judgement of the linesman Martin Yerby, who called it correctly.
Berbatov put the penalty away without blinking. Nine minutes left and Tottenham broke clean through on Chelsea's goal – a shame for their fans it was Zokora in possession. His first shot was saved by Petr Cech, he struck the rebound wide and it seemed that with that chance Spurs' opportunity to win had been squandered.
Instead their moment came four minutes into extra time. Jenas struck a free-kick from the left and Woodgate arrived before Cech to head the ball – it cannoned off the Chelsea goalkeeper, back off the defender's head and in. Spurs held on and when the dust settled it was not Grant who was emulating Jose Mourinho's first trophy victory in 2005. It was Ramos.
Goals: Drogba (39) 1-0; Berbatov pen (70) 1-1; Woodgate (94) 1-2
Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Cech; Belletti, Carvalho, Terry, Bridge; Mikel (J Cole, 99); Wright-Phillips (Kalou, 72), Essien (Ballack, 88), Lampard, Anelka; Drogba. Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Alex.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Robinson; Hutton, Woodgate, King, Chimbonda (Huddlestone, 62); Lennon, Jenas, Zokora, Malbranque (Tanio, 75); Keane (Kaboul, 103), Berbatov. Substitutes not used: Cerny (gk), Bent.
Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).
Booked: Chelsea: Mikel, Carvalho Tottenham: Zokora, Tainio, Lennon, Jenas.
Ramos reigns in cup competitions
Juande Ramos has added to his run of success in cup competitions. Since joining Seville in 2005, he has picked up a remarkable haul of silverware – winning the Uefa Cup twice, the Copa del Rey, the European Super Cup and the Spanish Super Cup, and now the Carling Cup with Tottenham.
Man of the match
Jermaine Jenas just edges out Ledley King because the midfielder held his own despite the extra man in the Chelsea midfield. Just got stronger and stronger and kept his side ticking over.
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