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Sunday, 8 January 2017

Dele Alli proves his worth in English football after inspiring Spurs to beat Aston Villa


Dele Alli proved once again why he is the hottest property in English football.

It took Alli’s introduction as a substitute on the hour mark to really change the game in Tottenham’s favour as they eventually saw off Aston Villa.

England midfielder Alli provides the imagination, movement and X Factor which makes all the difference for Tottenham and they looked flat without him.

But as soon as Alli came on, a rather drab FA Cup tie was transformed as Tottenham swarmed forward and looked a class apart.

Another of Tottenham’s substitutes, Georges-Kevin Nkoudou, was also hugely influential as he set up Ben Davies’ 71st minute opener before Heung-Min Son got the 80th minute clincher.


But it was huge credit to Steve Bruce’s Villa that they were in the game until Tottenham sent for the cavalry.

It just goes to show what happens as soon as the big guns play their best players and it is hard to understand why Tottenham treat the FA Cup in the same way as so many of their Premier League rivals.

Mauricio Pochettino made nine changes and ultimately that must be seen as a gamble by a club who have been known for decades as a cup team.

Remarkably, Tottenham have not lifted the FA Cup since 1991 in a final overshadowed by Gazza’s famous Wembley meltdown when the ex-Spurs star suffered his knee injury.

Since then, Tottenham have lost six FA Cup semi finals and won the League Cup twice but surely this represents too good a chance to turn down for a team going places under Pochettino.

It is easy for managers to say they field teams which should be strong enough to win games but there is bound to be a drop in momentum when you make such wholesale changes.

The brilliant victory over Chelsea last Wednesday was a season-defining moment and yet that was lost almost from the moment this game kicked off.

In fairness, some players took their chance. Harry Winks was excellent in midfield, Kieran Trippier was lively from right back and Davies scored.

But Vincent Janssen is struggling badly, the £17m striker was very poor and was substituted to make way for Alli. His form and lack of goals - just three and only one in the Premier League - is a massive concern.

Moussa Sissoko was also disappointing, his cross for Son’s goal should not mask another game in which you are waiting for him to look like a £30m player.

People keep excusing the fee because it is paid over five instalments of £6m but there is no real excuse for a player who did very little until he got wide late on.

Thankfully, one of the game’s star attractions - in his own mind at least - referee Mike Dean allowed the game to flow, did not book anyone and we forgot it was even him. Sorry, Mr Dean, but that is how it is supposed to be.

To be brutally honest, there was hardly anything worth remembering until Alli’s introduction. Just after that Son forced a fine save from Villa’s on-loan keeper Sam Johnstone.

Then Villa created a big opening after 66 minutes when Cameron Carter-Vickers blocked James Chester’s effort, the ball fell to Gabby Agbonlahor and his close range shot was deflected wide by Toby Alderweireld.

Bruce had given Agbonlahor a pre-match gee-up, saying they had thrown him a mackerel. In fairness, Agbonlahor took the bait and worked hard, justifying his place.

Finally, the breakthrough came after 71 minutes. Nkoudou, who had been on the pitch for less than a minute, swung over a left wing cross, Davies’ glancing header then arrowed into the bottom corner.
Nine minutes later, it was all wrapped up. Trippier set Sissoko away down the right, his low cross found Son and the Spurs forward steered the ball into the Villa net.

These are two giants in FA Cup terms, they have won it 15 times between them and maybe, just maybe, Tottenham can win it for a ninth time this season.

It would be especially fitting as they prepare to wave goodbye to the old White Hart Lane, the scene of so many great cup nights. But to do that, they will have to rely very heavily on the magic of Alli.

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