Less than three days after their League Cup semi-final loss to Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur crashed out of the FA Cup at the hands of Crystal Palace.

Mauricio Pochettino had defended Spurs‘ record by pointing out that their glory days were so long ago they were filmed in black and white, but there will be no colour-show reel from this season, in the cups at least.

The Spurs manager argues that winning such competitions, right now, would be only to feed the ego. Everyone knows what he means and appreciates that he is over-achieving. Of course it is too simplistic to reduce it to the argument of “What have you won?”. But it was interesting to hear his forthright take.

“We are going to create a debate that to win a trophy is going to help the club,” Pochettino said. “I don‘t agree with that. That only builds your ego. In reality, the most important thing is being consistently in the top four and playing Champions League. That is going to help the club to achieve the last step.

“The club is doing fantastically. In the last four or five years, we‘ve been fighting in different ways to achieve what the club needs, to be in the level of Chelsea, United, City or Arsenal or Liverpool.”

True. And patience and time are still needed, but everyone needs an ego-boost every now and again, even if Spurs can point to how fortunes have cruelly conspired against them – through injury, absence and a horrible fixture pile-up.

“I think we came from a very crazy fixture and were forced to take some decisions, rest some players and rotate,” Pochettino argued.

The debate will also centre on the lack of signings, over how their resources have been so stretched and tested – and few teams would survive their setbacks – and maybe also over whether Pochettino will soon have taken Spurs as far as he will want to.

Time will also tell on that, but it was surely difficult for him that chasing the game, he brought on Erik Lamela at half-time and then had to turn to a holding midfielder, Victor Wanyama, and 20-year-old Kazaiah Sterling, whose previous first-team experience was a handful of minutes more than a year ago.

Spurs made seven changes from the Chelsea tie, Palace made six from their last Premier League fixture, and beyond the satisfaction of a deserved victory and a place in the fifth round, there was the delight of Connor Wickham scoring for the first time in more than two years – 799 days, to be precise – after a serious knee injury.

There was a knee slide in his celebration as the striker let out a roar before thumping the turf with his fist. The goal was a tap-in, or rather a knee-in, as he forced a rebound over the line, but no-one could deny him his exuberant reaction.

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Pounce

It came after Jeffrey Schlupp ran on to Joel Ward‘s pass infield and burst past Davinson Sanchez, shooting across goal with goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga palming the ball only for Wickham to pounce.

It got worse for Spurs, and again Wickham was involved as Wilfried Zaha attempted to pick out the striker with a cross. Kyle Walker-Peters panicked and stuck out a left arm to deflect the ball away, but also to concede the clearest of penalties which Andros Townsend chipped into the centre of the goal with Gazzaniga diving to his left.

Townsend, who did not celebrate against his former club, should have quickly ended the tie as Palace broke down the left and Patrick Van Aanholt picked him out with a low cross, but he shot straight at Gazzaniga.

Would that prove costly? It should have. Lucas Moura won a free-kick on the edge of the Palace penalty area, and with the home side down to 10 men as the impressive Joel Ward received treatment for a cut, Kieran Trippier turned the ball to his left. Kevin-Georges Nkoudou was unmarked, and his first-time shot was blocked by Julian Speroni, with the 39-year-old excelling by reacting quickly to parry the follow-up for a corner.

Palace received another, even bigger reprieve. Fernando Llorente flicked on a header, and as Juan Foyth tried to turn away from Van Aanholt he was clumsily caught by the Palace defender. Another clear penalty for Kevin Friend to award and, without Harry Kane, it fell to Trippier who had not taken a spot-kick for Spurs before.

The full-back complained about the state of the penalty spot, being unable to place the ball properly, maybe also not helped by the wind – and then screwed his shot wide of Speroni‘s right-hand post.

Spurs dominated the second half, but despite the pressure they created few clear opportunities beyond a deflected Llorente shot that Speroni sharply tipped around a post.

“In the last few weeks I was listening a lot about winning titles, about many things,” Pochettino later said. “In the last few seasons we were there and we were close.”

Spurs were close and they remain close. But, frustratingly and despite the greater goals, another trophy has eluded them.

Irish Independent

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