Tottenham suffered a fourth defeat in a row as they were bundled out of the FA Cup by a resolute Norwich – the visitors, bottom of the Premier League, outlasting José Mourinho’s team to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 1992. But the night is likely to be remembered for Eric Dier making his way into the stand to confront a supporter.
After Jan Vertonghen’s early goal was cancelled out by a goalkeeping error from Michel Vorm that elicited an equaliser from Josip Drmic, Spurs fell apart in the shootout as Tim Krul saved two penalties. Erik Lamela, Troy Parrott and Gedson Fernandes all failed to score from the spot.
Despite another bitter defeat, Mourinho said he was ecstatic with his team’s performance: “I think the game was so fantastic and a real representation of what the FA Cup is and the FA Cup has to be.”
Tottenham arrived in the fifth round with their form crumbling before their eyes. Mourinho has spent much of his time attempting to manage expectations and divert attention from his own decisions by reminding the world at every opportunity of the crippling injuries surrounding his team.
But even if the absences of key players like Harry Kane and Son Heung-min would be a nightmare for most teams, they had not explained his indecision as he flitted through four different formations in the last four games. Here he altered the chemistry again, abandoning the back three employed in the 3-2 defeat to Wolves in favour of a return to 4-2-3-1, with Vorm appearing for his first game since October 2018, while youngster Oliver Skipp was drafted into midfield.
It seemed to be a mild success earlier on as it was one of his changes, Vertonghen, who put Tottenham into the lead. A month ago, Vertonghen sat inconsolable on the Spurs bench, fighting tears after being substituted in the 54th minute of Spurs’ 3-2 win over Southampton. Thirteen minutes into the tie he seemed achieve some redemption by firing a header into the net from a Giovani Lo Celso free-kick
As the match wore on, Tottenham’s early waves of counterattacks petered out as Norwich began to show why they have generated so much goodwill despite sitting rock bottom of the league.
As usual, they built nicely from the back with silkily combined rapid, pretty combinations. In the thick of everything good was Todd Cantwell, hair flowing and feet twirling as he made his mark. Norwich’s sustained pressure finally led to an equaliser and it took a disastrous piece of goalkeeping from Vorm as he dropped a routine save straight into the path of Drmic, who scored easily.
As the away side flowed, Tottenham struggled and in their most advanced role, Dele Alli looked a shadow of himself as he continually lost the ball and halted attacks.
As the game flitted to its conclusion, Tottenham responded immediately and moved on to the front foot, but neither in the dying moments of regular time when Serge Aurier forced Ben Godfrey to save heroically his shot off the line, nor in a sterile extra time more memorable for tired legs than the few paltry chances created by either team.
“After the equaliser, the team was the only team, with all the respect for Norwich, but we were the team that was close to winning in 90 minutes,” Mourinho said.
“And then in extra time, we were the team that tried.The boys did everything they could. I think they deserve to win the game on 90 minutes, on extra time. Penalties is penalties, credit for them.”
Krul had Tottenham’s penalty takers and their preferred directions listed on his water bottle as he stepped out to the goal and he showed that preparation is always key by saving Fernandes’ final penalty to send his team through.
As the fans booed and the Totttenham players departed from the pitch, Eric Dier became caught up in an incident with a fan in the crowd. The defender marched into the crowd and began climbing rows in pursuit of a fleeing fan.
Footage from other fans captured an angry Dier shouting “he’s my brother” as stewards eventually dragged him away from the fans.
Mourinho later defended his player, stating that Dier had reacted to heckling by a fan as his younger brother stood nearby.
In the end, the story quickly became about a dramatic altercation in the crowd rather than another bad defeat for Tottenham. Even when Mourinho loses, he wins.