Joe Nicholson's verdict: Terrible start could have turned ugly but Middlesbrough recovered well at Tottenham

With 15 minutes gone, Middlesbrough head coach Jonathan Woodgate feared the worst.

Thursday, 16th January 2020, 1:50 pm
Middlesbrough defender Djed Spence impressed against Tottenham.
Middlesbrough defender Djed Spence impressed against Tottenham.

A trip to the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for an FA Cup replay with Jose Mourinho’s side was supposed to be a reward for Boro’s excellent efforts in the original tie.

However, with just a quarter of an hour on the clock, the Teessiders were in real danger of receiving of a real hiding.

Yes this was Tottenham, last year’s Champions League finalists, but a heavy defeat could have seriously dented Boro’s renewed belief.

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Woodgate’s side had won four of their last five league games before the trip to North London and are the Championship’s in-form team.

Yet the visitors looked like conceding nearly every time Spurs went forward in the first half, the pace and free-flowing movement of Giovani Lo Celso, Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen and Lucas Moura was simply too much.

It should be noted that Boro won’t be coming up against this calibre of player every week, and that Woodgate did make changes (five in total) with one eye on Friday’s trip to Fulham.

Academy graduate Ben Liddle made his first senior start for Boro, as did Manchester City loanee Lukas Nmecha.

Tomas Mejias was handed his second appearance of the season in goal and it was the Spaniard’s mistake after just three minutes which put Boro on the back foot.

Yet, as Woodgate pointed out after the game, such mistakes would often go unpunished in the Championship. This was significant step up.

In truth, the scoreline could have looked worse than 2-0 at half-time, yet Boro recovered admirably to make a fist of it.

Wing-back Djed Spence was the pick of the bunch, producing another lively performance in the right wing-back role.

All three substitutes, George Saville, Marcus Tavernier and Rudy Gestede, also make an impact, as Boro utilised their height up top in the closing stages.

A direct ball to Gestede allowed Saville to pull a goal back for the visitors and set-up a nervy finale for Mourniho’s men.

Despite suffering their first defeat for nearly a month, Boro didn’t disgrace themselves here.

The experience should even encourage and inspire this young side which continues to develop under Woodgate.