Finally finding balance on the left got us out of jail as our FA Cup clash finished Newport 1-1 Tottenham at a riotous Rodney Parade.
Somehow Spurs squeaked a replay out of a dire performance. Battling the elements and a fired-up foe, Mauricio Pochettino had to also address issues in our initial team selection. The search for balance on the left led to a late equaliser as Harry Kane spared our blushes. The match ended Newport 1-1 Tottenham ensuring at least a replay.
Tottenham imbalance vs Newport shape
On paper, naming a 3-5-2 with a ton of strength in central midfield and aerial power throughout seemed the way to battle a League two foe on a poor pitch in windy conditions.
Dembele, Wanyama, Sissoko in a midfield trio looked to offer the assuredness we wouldn’t get bullied in the middle of the park. Kane and Llorente up top provided size; hold-up presence and an increased goal threat that should dispatch lower league opposition.
Unfortunately, FA Cup games are not played on paper. On a heavy pitch that tested touch and control, a ponderous midfield trio were pounced upon by a Newport team seeking to limit our time on the ball.
Newport’s set up was excellent for the conditions and to use their home field advantage.
Mike Flynn started his team in a 4-1-4-1 formation and pressed the hell out of our midfield. Joss Labadie and Ben Tozer denying Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembele any time on the ball. Scot Bennett pushed up behind them to further restrict space.
The set up gave us two issues, which we struggled with in the first half.
Firstly we couldn’t build play through the middle of the park as we usually do as Dembele and Wanyama were immediately harassed.
Secondly, their formation used the strong wind. Newport gave us space between their lines of defence and midfield. However, the wind and our lack of skill players to buzz in this space meant we didn’t find it.
Any aerial passes often overshot this zone and were hoovered up by the Newport defence. Moussa Sissoko was the man who should’ve taken advantage. Sissoko was the key player in all of this as he was often left free by Newport’s press. However he is not the player to have as a number ten to exploit this space.
As a result, Spurs often struggled to build any kind of attacking threat. Moussa Sissoko did manage one time to pierce this space as he burst through. Harry Kane got on the end of his cut back, but hit the outside of the post.
Newport long balls and long throws
Once Newport had regained the ball, they used the wind and their shape to their advantage. Long passes held up in the face of the blustery breeze. As a result, their wide players could charge forwards after them.
Newport won a number of throws from passes over our high defensive line that held up in the wind. Consequently, they could unleash the long throw-ins of Ben Tozer.
Tottenham did well on the whole to deal with these hurls in to the box. However, at the fifth time of asking, we didn’t defend the second ball. Tozer’s long launch was initially well cleared by Jan Vertonghen. However, Vertonghen and Kyle Walker-Peters then both failed to get out and close down Robbie Willmott.
Hesitating at the same time, Vertonghen and Walker-Peters gave Willmott the space he needed to pick out a cross.
At the far post, Kieran Trippier was also in trouble. Juan Foyth had stayed put in his defensive zone. Our right back was suddenly marking two players and got caught in-between them.
Trippier then augmented his error by getting under the ball. Padraig Amond swept in to head home, sending their fans in to delirious states of disbelief that an upset just might be on the cards.
Spurs on the left
Imbalance ran throughout this Tottenham starting eleven.
Sissoko was not the player who could take advantage of the space that Newport left between the lines. Llorente up top was forcing Harry Kane in to areas he didn’t want to be. Dembele and Wanyama were not the combination to take on Newport’s fierce closing down in the middle of the pitch. Kieran Trippier was struggling to get forward in to crossing positions.
However, it was on the left where we struggled the most. Kyle Walker-Peters was played here and he had a tough time as a left wingback. Walker-Peters is a great prospect but he was knocked off his game by the harassing of both Willmott and David Pipe. It was also noticeable how Newport looked for the long ball beyond him as they sought to get forward. This led to their goal, which also saw Walker-Peters take a kick in the head in the build up before Tozer’s long throw.
At half time Mauricio Pochettino sought to address this. Son Heung-Min was introduced for Walker-Peters and Jan Vertonghen went to left back as we went to a 4-3-3.
Son was more of a threat, but Vertonghen also got in to some good crossing positions. However there was still an imbalance. Harry Kane was thrust in to a weird right forward role and Moussa Sissoko was still the player that needed to get between the lines.
Dele Alli changes the dynamic
It wasn’t until 66 minutes that we started to get a grip on this game. The introduction of Dele Alli changed that and righted an unbalanced ship. Llorente went off and Pochettino returned us to the 4-2-3-1 that we know so well. Suddenly Dele Alli was the man to expose the spaces between the lines that Sissoko couldn’t.
Within seconds of being introduced, Dele worked his movement in this space to pass in to Son Heung-Min for our best chance so far. However, Son couldn’t find the corner of the net as goalkeeper Joe Day thrust out a leg to deny him.
Ben Davies introduction the key
It’s not often that a left back is the key change. Many managers would throw on more attacking players chasing a goal. However, Ben Davies introduction was the final piece of the puzzle.
Pochettino’s move was key. Jan Vertonghen, who had over hit several crosses during his stint in the role, could return to centre back. Davies then gave us the left-sided balance that we needed by having a proper, rather than stand-in, full back. In nine minutes, he fired in two dangerous crosses, one of which won the corner from where we equalised.
The corner routine worked on Pochettino’s love of getting men to the near post. Usually it is a centre back, but Son’s run from the edge of the penalty area to provide a gorgeously sublime flick was outstanding. Harry Kane’s movement to drift off his marker for a far post tap in was equally impressive.
Kane’s concentration to watch the ball the whole way and avoid any nasty surprises from the surface ensured we were level at Newport 1-1 Tottenham.
Dele Alli almost wins the tie
Davies and Dele’s introductions had given us the team balance that we had been searching for. A dramatic winner was then almost achieved, as Dele was a whisker away from nodding us in to the FA Cup 5th round. Again he had exposed the space between the lines as he found a searching pass out to Son.
Not admiring the ball, Dele set off and indicated that he wanted it back. Another delicious pass from the growing Harry Kane catalogue almost found him. However, as Dele rose, he seemed to shirk the header with goalkeeper Joe Day’s fist arriving. The ball drifted past the post and the score remained Newport 1-1 Tottenham with the spoils shared and a replay back at Wembley Stadium.
Newport 1-1 Tottenham overall
A sub par Spurs performance, which wasn’t good enough. Whether it was the pitch, the elements, the venue or drones flying overhead, too many of the team were knocked off their stride or too casual against a spirited opponent.
However, two positives came out of this performance. Firstly, Mauricio Pochettino managed to address the imbalance that his initial selection caused. His reaction to make changes at half time and then the right moves in the second half have to be applauded.
Secondly, Tottenham teams pre-Pochettino would’ve been beaten in these conditions. Newport played their pitch and the elements well, but this Tottenham team is made of mentally stronger stuff. The belief to turn around what was a dire performance showed once more how resolute a unit we’ve become under Pochettino.
However, we need to learn not dig ourselves in to holes in the first place. That will be tested once again in the replay, where the spirit and energy of this Newport team cannot be underestimated.
Final score: Newport 1-1 Tottenham.
Spurs MOTM: Juan Foyth.