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Jan 27, 2013

Spurs stunned as FA Cup wait continues

For a mercurial player and a maverick manager, it was a watershed moment. The careers of Paul Gascoigne and Brian Clough were never the same again after May 18 1991, the day the Tottenham midfielder wrecked his knee in an exhibition of kamikaze tackling and Nottingham Forest's European Cup-winning alchemist discovered he would never realise his lifelong ambition of winning the FA Cup.

Instead, Spurs lifted it for a then record eighth time. Now their wait for a ninth will stretch into a 23rd season. They won the League Cup in 1999 and 2008 but, that apart, Arsenal's is not the only notable trophy drought in North London. As Tottenham fell to Old Big 'Ead's least favourite former club, Andre Villas-Boas was overcome by Neil Warnock, who worshipped at the church of Clough when managing Forest's neighbours, Notts County.

It was a road-bump in a season that had been progressing smoothly. Having scored an injury-time equaliser in their previous game against Manchester United, Tottenham's attempts at an action replay ended bizarrely, with their 41-year-old goalkeeper Brad Friedel attempting to double his career total of goals and, as Leeds broke and Kevin Friend blew his final whistle, Rodolph Austin rolled the ball from his own half into the unguarded net.

It didn't count, but nor did it matter. Luke Varney and Ross McCormack had ensured progress as Leeds marched on together into the last 16. Villas-Boas, who had settled on a certain phrase to describe them, thrice deemed the victors "extremely competitive". He may have been damning them with faint praise, but such words would seem praise to Warnock.

"When you look at the two teamsheets on paper, you don't know how the hell we are going to have a kick, let alone beat them," the Leeds manager said. "But you don't win football games on paper."

And talent is only part of the equation. Commitment and collectivism are the cornerstones of his teams, and this is a quintessential Warnock side. "I said to the lads, 'you're my type of players'," the manager added. They unsettled Tottenham with the intensity of their unstinting efforts. Scott Parker relished the midfield scrap, but too few others did.

Villas-Boas felt the first goal was pivotal, and Leeds got it. Yet Spurs' wastefulness reflected on those leading the line and directing their recruitment alike. We are now entering Levy Time, the point in the transfer window at which Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy looks for bargains but, like his Liverpool counterparts, he left his manager short of strikers in August.

"We understand an injury can put us in a difficult position," said a loyal Villas-Boas, and one did, with Jermain Defoe sidelined while Emmanuel Adebayor was at the African Nations Cup. "Obviously it is a risk we are willing to take."

It backfired. At Elland Road, there was one specialist forward: Jonathan Obika, a veteran of four loan spells at Yeovil but a solitary start for Spurs, who came off the bench. Clint Dempsey became the auxiliary attacker and took his recent return to five goals in five games, even though Warnock said the latest should be debited to Tom Lees instead. The problem was that the profligate, persistent American had squandered five earlier opportunities.

At the other end, meanwhile, Villas-Boas endured an unwanted return to his past. The words 'high defensive line' were ever present in analyses of his time at Chelsea, and came to mind again with each of Leeds' four major chances.

Varney converted the first, accelerating beyond the Spurs back four to meet a pass from Michael Brown after El-Hadji Diouf had missed his attempted flick. "Luke had so much time," said Warnock, and a player not known for his composure stayed calm to curl in a shot. So, too, did McCormack, who was twice brilliantly denied by Friedel, when released by Diouf after an unusual one-two, consisting of a header back and a lob over the top. Both goals were curlers that nestled inside the far post.

Both were created, too, by men Warnock appreciates. Brown and Diouf are twin agents provocateur - a Swansea ballboy is scarcely required to waste time when they are on the pitch - but the irritants ended with an assist apiece and offered evidence of the ability they often conceal. "We have got some good players," said Warnock, who was prepared to omit the best, top scorer Luciano Becchio, who has submitted a transfer request.

Victory meant his gamble was justified and gave him grounds to celebrate. "I might even treat myself to a bag of crisps," he said.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Michael Brown. "Fabulous," Warnock said. The old warhorse got under his former club's skin but he also proved mighty effective. The only blot on his copybook was the needless concession of a free kick deep into injury time. "I'd have crucified him if that went in," his manager said.

LEEDS VERDICT: Excellent. Warnock praised the spine of the side though, in 19-year-old right-back Sam Byram, he also had a terrific performer on the flanks. Twenty-four hours after signing a new contract, he flourished against Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon. Lee Peltier, "an unsung hero," according to Warnock, also prospered, making a superb last-minute tackle on Obika. Brown, Austin and Paul Green brought industry to the midfield, McCormack pace to the attack. Becchio, Warnock said, can leave if his asking price is met and a replacement is signed.

TOTTENHAM VERDICT: Poor. They missed Defoe's pace in attack with Dempsey looking ponderous when picked out, particularly by Parker, with through balls, and were flat until Leeds scored their second goal. They were troubled at the back, too, with Benoit Assou-Ekotto proving particularly error-prone. While Villas-Boas made five changes, one was enforced, two entailed the recalls of men who may be in his strongest XI and Kyle Walker and Mousa Dembele came off the bench as they chased the game. The consolation is that Defoe should be back at Norwich on Wednesday when their hosts, having been beaten by Luton, won't want to mention the FA Cup either.

Be part of the Budweiser 2012-13 FA Cup fan film. Share your photos on Twitter: #tothedream

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