Tottenham sink to dreadful but familiar low as FA Cup chance slips by to extend trophy drought
Tottenham crashed out of the FA Cup with a limp 1-0 defeat to Sheffield United, surely extending their trophy drought for another season, barring a miracle in the Champions League.
Of all Spurs' near-misses and capitulations over 15 years without silverware, this will go down as one of the most frustrating given the circumstances and could have far reaching consequences, not least for Harry Kane's future.
In good form and against a weakened Sheffield United side, who made eight changes as they prioritise promotion from the Championship, Spurs were in a promising position to be included in a quarter-final draw which is wide open.
Of the sides left in the competition at the start of the night, only Manchester City and Manchester United were above Tottenham in the pyramid, and no one side knows better how to beat the champions than Spurs.
But Spurs, who have not won the FA Cup since 1991, went down to substitute Iliman Ndiaye's late goal to cap a dreadful but familiar performance at Bramall Lane.
Indeed, the occasion felt almost identical to Spurs' defeat by the same scoreline at the stage same to Championship opposition exactly a year ago to the day at Middlesbrough, offering a damning indictment of their progress over the last 12 months.
On that night at the Riverside, Antonio Conte went with his strongest side but this loss was further evidence that Spurs simply cannot make changes and expect to win any game comfortably. Their squad is just too thin.
The absent Conte, who was still recuperating in Italy, and his assistant Cristian Stellini made a string of rotations with Kane, Cristian Romero and Oliver Skipp among the players rested, and rare starts for Davinson Sanchez and Lucas Moura. Pedro Porro made his second start, with Emerson Royal nursing a minor problem.
First-choice side or not, Spurs still should have had more than enough quality to win the game, particularly with a front three of Richarlison, Heung-min Son and Lucas, but they looked disjointed and too often disinterested to a man.
The result is the first black mark on Stellini's previously impeccable record in charge and will raise fresh questions about Conte's tactics and selections.
Another year without a trophy will also make it harder to convince Kane to commit his future to the club with a new contract at the end of the season.
The footwork 🥵@iliman_ndiaye with an unbelievable goal for @SheffieldUnited #EmiratesFACup pic.twitter.com/ia7KCeJJzu
— Emirates FA Cup (@EmiratesFACup) March 1, 2023
The England captain replaced Richarlison on 65 minutes and, with hindsight, it was easy to wonder why he did not start given the magnitude of the occasion. Spurs may not find such an open cup draw for years and they should surely be trying to capitalise on these opportunities.
As it is, they will now have to focus on a push for the top four and fight to overturn a first-leg deficit against AC Milan in the Champions League last-16 second leg next Wednesday.
Lose that game, and all the optimism generated by the wins over West Ham and Chelsea during the Stellini interregnum will have evaporated.