An initially nervy performance saw us spectacularly come back from a goal down, as our Capital One Cup tie finished Spurs 3 Nottingham Forest 1 at White Hart Lane.
The Championship leaders were very effective in their set up, but the match swung on two key points. So much so that we ended up turning what had been a negative factor all night in to a positive one to score three times.
Forest fend us off
Stuart Pearce was very deliberate in his side’s set-up. Forest had come to make things difficult by sitting back in a 4-5-1 formation and looked to stop us from getting in-behind them by keeping their midfield tight to their back four.
They were compact and content to only engage the ball once it had been played in to their half of the field. This was proving effective and the first real chance of the game arrived from this tactic.
Nabil Bentaleb played a loose pass in to the Forest half that was jumped upon by Ben Osborn. The midfielder then raced forward towards our goal, skipping past Benjamin Stambouli and curling a shot that pinged back off the bar.
Forest only had Lars Veldwijk up front on his own and with the Dutchman having no real pace, this had to come from deeper. Players like Osborn and Jorge Grant were effective in supplying this.
What Forest were looking to do more often was to hit long balls up for Veldwijk to win in the air. What he lacks in pace, the Dutchman makes up for in power and strength. He was giving the equally imposing Federico Fazio a torrid time.
Several warnings were given in the first half as Fazio often had to recover from losing the first phase ball. However, the runners from deeper, combined with Veldwijk’s aerial dominance, put the visitors ahead as it all came together for them.
A long clearance was sent downfield that saw Veldwijk out jump Fazio to win the first header.
The ball broke free to Stephen McLaughlin who then fed it back to Veldwijk who had peeled wide. This move by the centre forward pulled Fazio out of the middle, leaving us light in the centre.
Veldwijk managed to put in a cross that was touched on and Jorge Grant arrived in the space that was left by Fazio’s absence to open the scoring.
It was a well-worked goal that combined the two factors of what Forest were trying to do.
Negative outside shooting
Whilst Nottingham Forest were giving a decent account of themselves, we were struggling to get anything going. Their 4-5-1 set up was giving us trouble to really create anything going forward.
Andros Townsend and Aaron Lennon were often cutting back inside in to trouble, whilst Nabil Bentaleb was turning the ball over with errant passes.
With Forest sitting off, this lead to us really only having any efforts on goal from long range shooting.
Andros Townsend fired a wicked drive just past the post after a fast break. Jan Vertonghen saw his effort from range clawed away by Dorus de Vries after it was deflected on its way towards goal. Just prior to half time, Federico Fazio rifled a well-hit drive that just flew over the bar. It was all rather promising without being threatening.
Just like West Brom at the weekend, the problem once more for us was a team that was sitting deep trying to deny space between the lines and in-behind their back four. We were also struggling to get men in the box.
Several crosses were sent in, with some particularly good deliveries from Ben Davies. However, it wasn’t until after half time that Paulinho put a header wide and also a neat flick with the outside of his right boot. Davies delivered the ball in both times.
The balance of the game and the tie swung with each manager’s changes.
Mauricio Pochettino replaced Paulinho with Harry Kane, as he put an even more attacking player in to the number ten position.
The Brazilian was supposed to be bursting forward and getting in to the box, but apart from his two efforts described above, he was failing to do this. Kane came on and immediately saw his header from close range saved; either side of the keeper would have seen him score. The passage of play was much more positive though.
Pochettino’s other change was to bring on Ryan Mason for Benjamin Stambouli. The Frenchman had done well in his holding role to break up play, but both he and Nabil Bentaleb were negative when it came to getting forward. So much so that Bentaleb, who was supposed to be getting from box-to-box, was often deeper than the holding player, Stambouli.
Replacing one of them had to be done and introducing a player like Mason who gets himself and the ball moving forward had the biggest impact on the team.
Stuart Pearce made three changes, but the biggest and arguably the one that switched the flow of the tie was to remove Lars Veldwijk.
The Dutchman had been a thorn in our side all evening with his aerial strength and power. Presumably replacing him with the much faster, but weaker, Dexter Blackstock was supposed to see him run in-behind against our tiring defence. It didn’t work out that way though, as Fazio then started to take over and control this matchup. The ball repeatedly came back quicker as Forest sunk deeper with no hold-up presence up front.
Ryan Mason’s goal changed the game, but it came about from what had been a negative for us all night; a reliance on long range shooting.
Negative becomes a positive
Shooting form range was what we were restricted to for much of this game by Forest’s set up, but also by our lack of incisive or penetrating passing.
Fortunately for us, this negative was turned in to a positive on our first two goals as we turned the game around.
Ryan Mason got us level with a wondrous strike that sailed over the crowd of deeper sinking defenders and past Dorus de Vries. Forest were beginning to drop off as they tired and Mason let fly without being challenged.
The strike was set up by a neat inside pass by Ben Davies, which was telling seeing as he was supplying our most accurate crosses.
One soon became two as Roberto Soldado got on the score sheet. Again Mason was involved as his neat back heel moved the ball in to the path of Andros Townsend.
With the Forest defence now being pulled around, Jamaal Lascelles had sunk deeper than the rest of his back four, allowing Soldado to sneak in.
Townsend’s effort from range was flying wide, but the Spaniard was deep enough to turn it goal bound and over the diving de Vries.
Two goals from long-range shots had turned the tie on its head.
High on confidence, our third arrived in typical Mauricio Pochettino fashion.
The opposition ball carrier was trapped hard by the pressing of Bentaleb, Lamela and Kane in the Forest half of the field.
With Lamela now in possession, he could quickly turn and run in to the space towards goal and get the defence back peddling.
His neat through ball found Harry Kane running off the shoulder of the centre back and his calm finish made it Spurs 3 Nottingham Forest 1 on the night.
It was the type of goal that lends itself to Mauricio Pochettino’s philosophy of intense pressure, followed by quick player and ball movement the other way.
Spurs 3 Nottingham Forest 1 overall
Stuart Pearce’s side set themselves up well to frustrate and then try to bully us with their physical centre forward on the counter. The tactic worked until they started to tire, Veldwijk was removed and Mauricio Pochettino made some well thought out changes.
The introduction of Ryan Mason was a good one as it brought in a player who can move the ball forward through passing or dribbling. In Bentaleb and Stambouli we didn’t have this on the field. Since loaning out Lewis Holtby, we really only have Mousa Dembele and Ryan Mason that can do this from a deeper position in the pivot.
Our first two goals arrived from long-range shots, something that had been a negative factor all night due to our lack of incisive or penetrative passing.
A third from Pochettino’s patented pressing, followed by swift movement forward, put the icing on the cake.
Final score: Spurs 3 Nottingham Forest 1.