Arrogant Tottenham plunged back into gloom by inexplicable FA Cup exit

Arrogant Tottenham plunged back into gloom by inexplicable FA Cup exit

Tottenham plunged back into the gloom with an achingly familiar defeat in the FA Cup, surely among their most frustrating capitulations in 15 seasons and counting without a trophy.

Spurs arrived here with four wins from five League games to face a second-tier side prioritising promotion, and with the FA Cup draw wide open. As it turned out, the Blades will face fellow Championship club Blackburn for a place in the semi-final at Wembley, following Iliman Ndiaye's winner.

Every Spurs fan had seen last night's game before, and many probably saw the result coming, as a disjointed side laboured from the off. A repeat of last season's 1-0 loss to Middlesbrough at the same stage, exactly a year previously, means Spurs have now been eliminated from the FA Cup by Crystal Palace, Norwich, Everton, Boro and the Blades in the past five campaigns.

In every one of those ties, Spurs were favourites, and their history of recent failure in a competition they have not won since 1991 is not about losing to richer or more successful clubs, but about repeatedly coming up short against lesser opponents.

Last night, the obvious place to start was the absence of Harry Kane and Cristian Romero, Spurs's two most important players, from the starting XI. Antonio Conte and Cristian Stellini made six changes from Sunday's win over Chelsea, and the stand-in boss insisted afterwards that he had no regrets about starting Kane on the bench.

What exactly, though, are Spurs saving Kane and Romero for which is more pressing than the game's most prestigious domestic cup?

Lucas Moura, who will leave the club in June, was a curious selection, starting a first game since November 1 and characteristically failing to offer anything resembling a final ball. Romero's replacement, Davinson Sanchez, was jittery all night and easily beaten by Ndiaye ahead of his smart finish.

Harry Kane started on the bench last night. (Getty Images)
Harry Kane started on the bench last night. (Getty Images)

There is more than enough evidence by now to know that Spurs cannot expect to win any game when making wholesale changes, particularly when the likes of Lucas, Sanchez, Pedro Porro and Pape Sarr have barely played this season — a result of circumstances and Conte's refusal to rotate.

That said, for the best part of a decade it has been clear that Kane cannot play every single game, and Spurs have a capable understudy in Richarlison.

Their starting XI last night cost in the region of £220m in transfer fees and every one was a full international, with a combined 567 caps. Rusty or not, in form or out, Spurs should have had enough quality on show to beat a heavily-rotated Blades side. If Stellini and Conte were arrogant in their selections, the players were complacent and lacking the required mentality.

Perhaps the very culture of the club is a factor. To remain competitive under their ownership's business model, Spurs need to be in the Champions League and, for all the talk from chairman Daniel Levy about wanting to win silverware, the prevailing priorities of the club may seep down to the players. There is also the ongoing uncertainty caused by Conte's refusal to commit to the club, and the surest sign that there is no long-term stability at Spurs is that every win feels like a turning point and every defeat brings a new sense of crisis.

The potential implications of last night's reverse go beyond simply another year without silverware, casting further doubt over the chances of Kane agreeing a new deal and weakening Conte's position. The Italian will not be able to walk away from Spurs this summer with an FA Cup, as he did at Chelsea.

Conte and Stellini will now restore their best players to the side for Saturday's game at Wolves, an occasion fans care about significantly less than last night, and face a season-saving Champions League last-16 second leg against AC Milan on Wednesday.