It was the game we’d all been waiting for since the third-round draw was made in early December, but despite a bright start, it was far from a fairy tale finish.
A packed Prenton Park presented the perfect stage for Tottenham’s all-star cast to light up Birkenhead on a cold January evening, and they did just that.
For all the talk of Spurs fielding a weakened team, while they did just that, it was still packed with millions of pounds worth of international talent.
Colombian World Cup defender Davinson Sanchez, young Argentinian juan Foyth, Ivory Coast international Serge Aurier and Wales left-back Ben Davies made up the back four. More than 160 Spurs first team appearances and in excess of 100 international caps between them. Combined transfer fees of that back four were in the region of £85million.
The team included Dele Alli as captain, Son and Moura in a front line with Fernando Llorente. There were internationals everywhere, and they kept Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane on the bench.
Our calculations has the starting eleven for Spurs containing in the region of £150million of transfer fees, in excess of 250 international appearances (including a World Cup winner) and around 500 senior appearances for Spurs or other Premier League clubs.
Weakened? Perhaps. Weak? Not a chance. In contest, much of the Rovers team had played in the National League last season and there was barely a transfer fee in sight.
The first half saw the Premier League team dominate possession as you’d expect. Most things were going through Alli and ending up with the excellent Son or Lucas Moura being fed in to the channels.
Scott Davies produced a wonderful save one-on-one to deny Son while McNulty ditched Llorente to clear a dangerous ball at the back post. With around half an hour on the clock, Tranmere began to have a little go at Spurs.
Manny Monthe’s looping header from a corner was palmed away by Gazzaniga in goal, Connor Jennings had a half-volley blocked away for a corner and James Norwood shot wide on his left foot when squaring the ball was a better option.
It looked Micky Mellon’s men would make the break with the score still locked at 0-0, but it wasn’t to be. A quickly taken corner (the ball was rolling so should have been retaken, by the way) was half cleared by Rovers. It fell to Norwood 35 yards out, but he failed to hold the ball up and it broke for former PSG defender Aurier who found Davies’ top corner from distance.
Despite that, 0-1 at half-time was a lot better than most expected. If we could come out after the break and keep it tight, we could set-up a fascinating finish. Unfortunately, the exact opposite was true.
Rovers were cut to shreds within minutes of the restart, and within 12 minutes of the start Tranmere were four down. Llorente, Son and Aurier got the goals, and while Rovers continued to try and attack when they could, Spurs were simply too good.
Their slick attacking play was lethal – let’s be honest, just about every Premier League team have been pulled apart by them recently, so it was going to be tough. The more they relaxed, the tougher it got.
Llorente would grab two more to complete his hat-trick, and with just over 10 minutes left Spurs boss Pochettino decided to introduce Harry Kane. After the game, he said it was for the Tranmere fans. Thanks, Mauricio.
Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long for the World Cup Golden Boot winner to find the net, a deft finish as he dinked the ball over the on-rushing Davies.
Ref Andre Mariner thankfully wasn’t entirely sticking to the rules. Stoppage time is usually calculated with 30 seconds given for each goal or sub, but despite a host of second half changes and six goals, he only added a minute on and brought things to a close swiftly.
It was great to see Prenton Park full and for some truly world class players to be gracing the turf. It’s back to business next week.