Joe Nicholson's verdict: Middlesbrough's excellent back three were fundamental in Tottenham draw

When the draw was made for the third round of this year's FA Cup, Middlesbrough had just been thumped 4-0 by Leeds United at Elland Road.

Sunday, 5th January 2020, 1:27 pm
Updated Monday, 6th January 2020, 10:15 am
Middlesbrough striker Ashley Fletcher celebrates scoring against Tottenham.
Middlesbrough striker Ashley Fletcher celebrates scoring against Tottenham.

Back then it was hard to see how Jonathan Woodgate’s patched-up side would even compete against last year’s Champions League finalists Tottenham Hotspur.

What a difference a month can make.

Not only did the Teessiders hold Jose Mourinho’s Spurs side at the Riverside Stadium, they were just under half an hour away from knocking them out.

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Boro still have their injury problems, especially in defence where midfielders Jonny Howson and Paddy McNair were asked to play at centre-back alongside Dael Fry.

All three were excellent as they kept Tottenham’s star-studded attack, containing Son Heung-min, Delle Alli, Lucas Moura and Christian Eriksen, under wraps for large spells.

Boro have conceded just two goals in their last five games and have looked solid in different formations recently.

And despite recording just 29 per cent possession, Woodgate’s men reduced Spurs to few clear-cut chances throughout the 90 minutes.

As Mourinho pointed out after the match, the visitors were piling on the pressure in the closing stages and could have scored a winner when Serge Aurier fired over late on.

The Spurs boss was also complimentary about Boro, though, admitting they’ll deserve their replay in North London later this month.

For Mourinho and Tottenham the FA Cup surely marks the best chance they will have to win a trophy this season and the visitors certainly went for it.

With Harry Kane out injured, this was probably the strongest side Mourinho could have named, yet Boro held their own.

The biggest complement for Woodgate and Boro was the fact Spurs had to change their shape after falling 1-0 behind to Ashley Fletcher’s neat finish five minutes after half-time.

Off came Ryan Sessegnon and Harry Winks for the more offensive duo of Giovani Lo Celso and Erik Lamela.

Up until that point Boro had posed a decent threat on the break, yet the second-half changes helped pin the hosts back.

Lucas’ header may have rescued a replay for the Premier League side – but Boro were good value for the draw.