Conte questions consistency after Spurs dumped out of FA Cup

Middlesbrough stun Tottenham in FA Cup fifth round after 19-year-old Josh Coburn scores extra-time winner

Wednesday, 2nd March — By Dan Carrier

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FA Cup Fifth Round


AS sure as night follows day, a heart-warming Tottenham performance at the weekend leads to the midweek blues.

After Spurs thumped struggling Leeds United 4-0 in the Premier League on Sunday, it was par for this season’s course they would crash out of the FA Cup to Championship outfit Middlesbrough on Tuesday night.

While Boro can celebrate taking another Premier League scalp to add to Manchester United in the previous round, Tottenham can briefly lament the fact Harry Kane had a perfectly good goal incorrectly ruled out for offside with the tie balanced at 0-0.

However, such a fact provides a very thin excuse in a match that Middlesbrough dominated, and in which they didn’t allow Spurs to play at their pace. Josh Coburn’s extra-time winner was indeed a worthy won.

The strike by the 19-year-old substitute finally saw Boro breach a Spurs defence that had spent the evening firefighting dangerous attacks.

The Teessiders were deserving of a place in the quarter-finals, ending Tottenham’s slim hopes of silverware in a gruelling season of multiple disappointments.

Speaking after the game, coach Antonio Conte lamented his sides shortcomings – and made it clear he knew where the ongoing problems lie.

After watching his team beat Manchester City away, then losing to bottom club Burnley; thumping Leeds and then capitulating against Middlesbrough – it hardly takes a footballing brain of the complexity of Conte’s to highlight how infuriating his players inconsistency is.

“For me there is the desire, the will, the patience to try to continue to work very hard to improve – to make this team more stable than the past, because I think this is the key that can change the situation,” said Conte.

“In this type of situation you need to find the right key to go into the mind of the players, because it’s not only sometimes a tactical problem or a technical problem.

“Sometimes you have to try to work and to push in other aspects, the mental aspects – and try to stay focused and to work also on the training sessions, to keep focusing.”

Weighing up the challenge ahead, the Tottenham boss added: “I know that it’s very difficult to be focused in every moment, but if we want to be competitive in the future, these aspects we have to improve a lot.

“The truth is that today we are talking about a defeat. The last game we won, two games ago we lost, three games ago we won. And I think that I can’t hide the reality that we are having too many ups and downs.

“We have to try and work, and I think this is a problem now and maybe also in the past.”

Calling for patience, the remaining games of a chaotic season will shape the type of summer preparation Conte embarks on.

He continued: “There are three months and a half to work, to work very hard and get the best result, and for the team to see at the end of the season which is our position in the table. We have to continue to work and to improve in many aspects.”

Spurs rely – as they often have done in recent history – on two or three genuinely world class footballers to raise the levels of the more average players in the squad. And when those who have the ability fail to put in a shift, the malaise spreads through the team.

It is this painful scenario that played out at the Riverside.

Heung-Min Son had a stinker. He has been off the boil since a calf injury picked up at the turn of the year – but against Boro, when he is supposedly firing on all cylinders, Son’s contribution was woeful.

Boro, pressing Spurs into mistakes and winning every loose ball, also showed patience when they won possession. Tottenham, in contrast, looked for swift breaks that resulted in the ball being handed back to the home side as scrappy pass followed scrappy pass.

When the visitors did threaten, Kane was brilliantly marshalled and became increasingly frustrated – his mood not helped by a series of close offside calls, caused by both a flag-happy linesman and teammates dithering on through balls instead of finding the striker when he needed to be found.

Now Tottenham must focus on finishing fourth in the Premier League – it’s all they have left.

Qualify for the Champions League and there will be less transfer clamour swirling round Kane. Fail, and that will surely mean Kane – and perhaps Conte – will be twitchy again, and understandably so.

Middlesbrough: Lumley, Dijksteel, Fry, McNair (Peltier, 105), Jones, Crooks, Howson (Bamba, 118), Tavernier, Taylor (Bola, 96), Sporar (Coburn, 96), Watmore (Balogun, 75)
Substitutes not used: Olusanya, Siliki, Daniels, Boyd-Munce

Tottenham: Lloris, Romero, Dier, Davies (Scarlett, 115), Doherty (Royal, 80), Winks, Sessegnon (Bergwijn, 80), Hojbjerg, Kulusevski (Reguilon, 105), Son, Kane
Substitutes not used: Gollini, Rodon, Sanchez, White, Devine

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