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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Remarkable Rochdale book Wembley date after holding Tottenham to FA Cup draw

The team that looks destined for League Two produced a a dramatic 2-2 draw against a club flying in the Uefa Champions League.

A month ago, Steven Davies, left, and Rochdale were celebrating a famous FA Cup result against Tottenham. The League One club are now back to the day job, fighting to prevent relegation to. Rochdale are second-bottom, six points from safety, although they have at least two games in hand on the sides above them. Andrew Yates / Reuters
A month ago, Steven Davies, left, and Rochdale were celebrating a famous FA Cup result against Tottenham. The League One club are now back to the day job, fighting to prevent relegation to. Rochdale are second-bottom, six points from safety, although they have at least two games in hand on the sides above them. Andrew Yates / Reuters

There are times when the FA Cup can seem moribund, irrelevant or anachronistic. It is safe to say this was not one of them. Captivating, energising and ultimately unpredictable, it brought the sort of drama that made the competition beloved.

It ended chaotically, brilliantly, with the Rochdale substitute Steven Davies spinning to fire home a 93rd-minute equaliser. Two weeks earlier, Tottenham drew 2-2 with Liverpool. Five days before, they drew 2-2 with Juventus.

The scoreline was the same but the emotions different yesterday. It was Rochdale who staged the latest comeback. It was illogical and, from League One’s basement side, utterly magnificent. They may be on their way to League Two, but they are also going to Wembley for a replay.

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Read more:

'The highlight of my career': Former Wigan players and staff reflect on 2013 FA Cup

Harry Kane the link between the 'two worlds' of Tottenham and Rochdale

Watch: Pochettino will continue to be 'cautious' with Tottenham's Alderweireld

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Sixty-three places separate them from Tottenham but Rochdale bridged a gargantuan gap with commitment and cohesion. They defended valiantly, attacked intelligently and competed incessantly. They may have faced a second-string Tottenham team, but even Mauricio Pochettino’s reserves arrived for more than £120 million (Dh618m).

They forced the Spurs manager to summon Dele Alli and Harry Kane and even when they contrived to put the Premier League side ahead, Rochdale displayed the spirit to respond. Manager Keith Hill had said his side would need to play 20 or 30 times above their normal level. They did.

They were an indictment of some of Tottenham’s squad players. In theory, Pochettino has strength in depth. In practice, some of his understudies can be underwhelming. They were fortunate to avoid defeat at Newport County in the previous round. Once again, application and attitude were faulty.

If a talisman, in Kane, scored for Tottenham, another did for Rochdale. When released by Colchester, Ian Henderson almost abandoned professional football to become a dentist. He has been rewarded for giving football another go. His goal came from a wonderfully slick move, capped when the influential Andy Cannon picked out Henderson with a low centre and the captain, who had missed two earlier chances, beat Michel Vorm with an assured first-time finish.

Spurs ought to have been ahead before then. Whereas Henderson has four goals in three games, however, Fernando Llorente has two in six months. There ought to have been a third but the Spaniard shot into the advertising hoardings. It counted as a merciful release when Kane replaced him.

Others in the supporting cast fared better. Pochettino gave a full debut to Lucas Moura, the £23m arrival from Paris Saint-Germain and he was a deserving scorer. Moura played in fast-forward mode, looking quicker than anyone else.

Rather than needing time to settle, a player without a club start in nine months seemed eager to make up for lost time. That speed was apparent in the immediate impression he made, opening his account for his new club when he raced on to Moussa Sissoko’s pass and lofting a shot over goalkeeper Josh Lillis.

Thereafter, Tottenham belatedly showed the urgency required. Victor Wanyama cleared the bar from two yards. Erik Lamela had a defelected effort cleared off the line by Matty Done. Kane capped his 200th Tottenham game with a 133rd goal, taken from the penalty spot after Alli was upended by Harrison McGahey.

Game over, it seemed. But that was to underestimate Rochdale. Eleven points from safety in League One, they pegged back a team who are unbeaten in this season’s Uefa Champions League. It was remarkable. It was merited.