STEVENAGE, England (Reuters) - Favourites Tottenham Hotspur stumbled on the road to Wembley when League One (third tier) Stevenage held them to a 0-0 draw in a surprisingly tight FA Cup fifth-round tie at their tiny Broadhall Way ground on Sunday.
With the big top of Big Sam’s American Circus across the road visible throughout the ground, Spurs never lost their grip on the high wire act they have been performing all season, although their performance was more flat-footed than usual.
The nearest either side came to a goal on a bitterly cold but sunny afternoon was midway through the second half when a shot from Spurs’ Louis Saha found the back of the Stevenage net but was disallowed because the ball hit his team mate Scott Parker, standing offside, before it crossed the line.
The home side, who caused an FA Cup upset when they knocked out Premier League Newcastle United two seasons ago, became only the fourth team to prevent Spurs from scoring in a domestic match this season.
Their manager Gary Smith has only been in the job for 25 days.
“We deserved that in the end, we were organised, and played well and its great to still be in the FA Cup at this stage,” Smith told reporters.
They stayed totally focused and deserved their money-spinning replay at White Hart Lane on March 7 after a truly gutsy performance.
The winners will host Bolton Wanderers in the quarter-finals.
”I was relieved at the end, but it was the sort of game I expected,“ Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp said. ”We were taking nothing for granted, lots of teams from the lower divisions have knocked out top teams before.
“They didn’t let us play our normal game today, but I am looking forward to the replay.”
In a physical but sporting match, Stevenage’s best effort came after 61 minutes when Joel Byrom fired a swerving long-range shot that went just inches over Carlo Cudicini’s bar.
Spurs, riding high in third place in the Premier League and chasing a Champions League spot, were thwarted by a well organised Stevenage defence marshalled by Ronnie Henry, whose grandfather Ron was a member of the great Spurs side which won the FA Cup and League double in 1961.
Ronnie himself had a spell at Spurs but never made the first team, one of the many links between Stevenage and Tottenham dating back to the 1940s when the satellite town was first developed following World War Two.
Many people who live in Stevenage are Spurs fans and the clubs have regularly played friendlies but this was their first competitive meeting.
Although Redknapp made six changes to his side from the one that beat Newcastle United 5-0 in the Premier League last week, he also showed Stevenage plenty of respect.
He fielded a strong starting lineup with a three-man central defence of Michael Dawson, Younes Kaboul and Ryan Nelsen, making his full debut.
It was a shrewd move too as the underdogs tested Spurs with high balls into the heart of their defence in the early stages with Chris Beardsley proving a handful for the defenders on the bumpy pitch.
Spurs largely dominated possession but created few scoring chances. Apart from Saha’s disallowed effort, Dawson went closest for the eight-times FA Cup winners with a powerful 38th- minute header which Michael Bostwick cleared off the line.
Editing by Ed Osmond