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Tuesday 22 May 2018

Fearless Rochdale resurrect the magic of the cup

Rochdale 2 Tottenham Hotspur 2

LATE HERO: Rochdale’s Steven Davies celebrates scoring their second goal in injury time of their FA Cup fifth round clash with Spurs
LATE HERO: Rochdale’s Steven Davies celebrates scoring their second goal in injury time of their FA Cup fifth round clash with Spurs
FALL GUY: Dele Alli goes down in the Rochdale penalty area to win Spurs a late penalty yesterday
Tottenham's Harry Kane

The enduring, indestructible appeal of the world's oldest cup competition was encapsulated by this wonderful FA Cup tie.

Rochdale took the lead against Tottenham Hotspur, they played magnificently and they finally went behind to a Dele Alli-earned penalty, converted by Harry Kane, as Mauricio Pochettino had to call on his big guns. But Rochdale would not give it up. They simply would not give up.

With 43 seconds to go, the ball was swung into the Spurs penalty area for one last time, skimming off the head of Toby Alderweireld, commonly regarded as the best central defender in the Premier League, but made to look uncomfortable on this raucous occasion, and fell at the feet of substitute Steve Davies.

The journeyman 30-year-old striker, who has been plagued by injury, took a deft touch and finished with a Kane-like precision to beat goalkeeper Michel Vorm, to earn Rochdale a richly deserved - and enriching - replay and to give the FA Cup a superb story.

Deserved

It was the very least the lowest-ranked team left in the competition deserved, although quite how Rochdale are bottom of League One, given the quality and intensity of their performance, is a mystery.

Their proud manager Keith Hill, a seasoned, admirable campaigner, had promised they would play football on their newly-laid pounds 500,000 pitch and they did just that.

This was probably the biggest game in Rochdale's 111-year history, certainly the biggest cup tie, and they did themselves, their supporters and the town proud. So much debate centres on the value and importance of the FA Cup and where it now stands in the football landscape, but it survives. And, with ties like this, it thrives. They will talk about this day for years to come.

It was a heart-warming occasion. An occasion when there was a buzz, when the fans arrived early to gain a glimpse of Kane and Co - and when they did there were a few jokey, pantomime boos quickly followed by requests for selfies and autographs that were patiently met.

For Kane this was a special game and it seemed his goal would grab the headlines. Special? It was against Rochdale, and on this ground, that Kane made his professional debut back in January 2011 as a 73rd-minute substitute in a mid-table League One fixture, while on loan at Leyton Orient. Yesterday he came on to replace Fernando Llorente and when Alli went over under Harrison McGahey's challenge, Kane stroked the spot-kick past goalkeeper Josh Lillis. But it was not enough for Spurs.

Out on the pitch Rochdale showed no deference. They believed and they believed right from the start. It mattered not a jot that their opponents made 11 changes from the team who had earned such an impressive draw away to Juventus in the Champions League in midweek.

Before that it was the north London derby at Wembley for Spurs and from there, via Turin, to this tight, modest ground was some gear change. But it was still a game of football, 11 v 11, and football is what Rochdale played as they took the tie to Spurs and out-Spursed them at times in their intense pressing game.

That was evidenced in the opening goal, just before half-time. Rochdale worked remarkably hard, but also remarkably intelligently and it was Harry Winks who lost the ball carelessly just over half-way with the midfielder tackled by Mark Kitching. He found Stephen Humphreys who quickly switched the play and sent Andrew Cannon down the other flank. Cannon's low ball in was perfectly weighted and Ian Henderson, unmarked, arrived to side-foot gloriously past Vorm. Henderson, another older striker - 33 - who has been around the leagues and is Rochdale's captain and talisman, had his moment.

The celebrations were wild, exuberant and justified. Pochettino sent his team out early for the second-half and they responded with Moussa Sissoko threading the ball through to Lucas who once more used his speed to run through, take one touch and slam his shot high beyond Lillis.

Pochettino made changes and it appeared the pressure had told when Alli earned his penalty. It was late, very late, but despite their prodigious efforts, Rochdale were not finished. It was Matty Done who crossed from the left to spark more delirious scenes. The fans stayed on late after the final whistle.

They are off to Wembley, they are still contesting a place in the quarter-finals, as their FA Cup adventure continues.

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