Tottenham vs Morecambe result: Antonio Conte’s super-subs needed to save Spurs blushes

Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 Morecambe: The manager will have learnt plenty about his fringe players after such a tepid first-half display

Miguel Delaney
Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Sunday 09 January 2022 17:13
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<p>Anthony O’Connor opened the scoring for Morecambe before the home side hit back in the final quarter </p>

Anthony O’Connor opened the scoring for Morecambe before the home side hit back in the final quarter

Antonio Conte was forced to turn to his best players to prevent Tottenham Hotspur suffering the worst FA Cup elimination in their history.

Morecambe were a mere 16 minutes away from what would have been a stunning upset, but the arrival of goalscoring substitutes Harry Kane and Lucas Moura will now surely mean this third-round 3-1 Spurs win becomes about exits of a different kind.

This mostly hapless performance will have made up Conte’s mind on a series of players. It was almost as if he was giving them a chance to prove themselves, only for them to be outfought by brilliant displays by Steve Robinson’s Morecambe.

Dele Alli, Bryan Gil, Japhet Tanganga, Pierluigi Gollini and Tanguy Ndombele all failed the test, while Matt Doherty is already known to be on his way out.

It was the much-debated French midfielder that offered the touchstone moment of the day, as Ndombele just strolled off the pitch to a soundtrack of boos on 68 minutes, as part of a triple substitution that did turn the game. That will only make it worse.

Spurs had to turn to the grown-ups to make it better.

Harry Winks did display the kind of attitude that Conte likes, as he equalised with a brilliantly whipped free-kick just four minutes after the substitutions. It may be just as debated whether that was a cross – Winks subsequently told reporters he meant to shoot – but the important point was that was the moment when doubt finally vanished from Spurs’ game.

Up until then, it had been a picture of a team gripped by panic – at least after the opening minutes.

The hard truth, and something that should enrage Conte, is that this Spurs team started the game as if it would be an easy win. There were so many casual passes, and indulgent little flicks.

The very slowness of the play created the kind of gaps that Morecambe were more than willing to fill.

So much of the language around games like these can sound like cliches, but that is because basic truths often apply. Lower-league teams must give much more to have a chance, and that is what Morecambe did. But they really did so much more.

There was that intensity of application to every individual moment, adding up to a collective performance where they were playing so much better than Spurs.

There were signs of what was to come in the opening minutes, when Joe Rodon went to hit a pass back to the hugely uncertain Pierluigi Gollini. It was woefully underplayed, which almost saw Cole Stockton chase in.

This was the bigger problem for Spurs.

Their apathy soon gave way to anxiety, as it became clear this was far from easy. Where passes were earlier just casual, they were now calamitous, a series of balls finding no one but space or the touchline.

Morecambe sensed opportunity. The Spurs players feared embarrassment.

How else to explain that classic hesitation that gripped them on 32 minutes when Rodon waited for Gollini to come, only for the goalkeeper to refuse. Rodon was forced to concede a corner, and Spurs soon conceded a goal.

That also came from fundamental laxness.

Alfie McCalmont swung over a corner, and Morecambe captain Anthony O’Connor was left free to guide it in with his foot just yards out. Spurs could reasonably point to Gollini again not coming, but there was also the lack of movement from the markers.

There was only raucousness at the other end. The huge Morecambe contingent, who had been enjoying the day more and more, began to sing about how “Tottenham get battered everywhere they go”.

They were here only going out of the FA Cup, for what would have been their worst ever elimination.

The entire side were just seized by terror. One of the first pieces of play after the goal was Matt Doherty playing a pass straight out of play, followed by Dele Alli just hitting it into the centre circle.

Spurs were producing nothing other than hilarity.

There were a few rushed efforts, most notably from Ryan Sessegnon, but Conte was left with no choice but to make serious changes.

Kane, Oliver Skipp and Lucas Moura were all brought on, to also bring some assertiveness to proceedings.

It was remarkable how quickly they snapped into action. It was like adults putting order on children.

Within four minutes, Winks had equalised. By the 85th minute, Lucas Moura seized on an error from a tiring Morecambe to round Trevor Carson and score. Kane, at last, made it safe just before the end.

Humiliation had been averted, at least for the club. Morecambe had meanwhile done themselves credit.

That was far from the case for some of the Spurs starters.

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