Football: Tottenham thankful for Alli's winner to see off Barnsley

Tottenham's Dele Alli shakes hands with manager Mauricio Pochettino as he is substituted.
Tottenham's Dele Alli shakes hands with manager Mauricio Pochettino as he is substituted.PHOTO: REUTERS

(THE GUARDIAN) - It was an unusual vibe, with Wembley containing 23,926 supporters, and Mauricio Pochettino having made it plain that the League Cup was a long way down his trophy wish-list.

But Tottenham Hotspur will continue in the competition - possibly for more of the same - after Dele Alli found a way to break Barnsley's resistance. There is seemingly no way to keep the 21-year-old out of the headlines, whether for good or, sometimes, bad and he was on hand to shoot low into the net from close-range for his third goal of the campaign.

Barnsley played a full part in a decent enough tie, with fierce backing from their fans in one enclosure of this great bowl, and the club that occupies 20th place in the Championship will wonder how it might have turned out if Ike Ugo had converted a wonderful chance at the start of the second half.

Tottenham, though, deserved to win and they might have added to Alli's goal in the closing stages.

It had come as a surprise to some people at Tottenham that not one broadcaster had taken a live feed for this tie. Perhaps it was not just Pochettino whose priorities lay elsewhere. The Tottenham manager, though, went strong with his line-up, as part of his strategy to put the right number of minutes into his key players. There were starting places for Jan Vertonghen, Mousa Dembele, Alli and Son Heung Min.

Pochettino gave a debut to Juan Foyth and he played him in the middle of a back four. The 19-year-old summer signing from Estudiantes almost opened the scoring with his first touch in English football only to flash a header wide from Kieran Trippier's corner.

Tottenham threatened from set-pieces and how Fernando Llorente did not open the scoring in the 26th minute remains a mystery. He rose all alone to meet another Trippier corner but, from close-range, he was horribly off-target.

It was apparent from the outset that Barnsley were set up to fight in their tight 4-3-3 formation and, possibly, punch on the counter-attack or from a set-piece of their own. Ugbo, the powerful striker on loan from Chelsea, embarrassed Jan Vertonghen with one glorious flick and bust on halfway while he also put Harvey Barnes away for a break. Vertonghen got back to tackle.

Barnsley's big chance of the first-half came from a Ryan Hedges corner on 41 minutes. Liam Lindsay nodded wide when well-placed. Glory had beckoned.

The onus was on Tottenham to prise their visitors apart and bring the crowd to life. Not that the travelling hordes needed any spark. They contributed heavily to the occasion. The stadium's top tier was shut while the middle one was sparsely populated. There was no getting away from the weirdness of seeing Wembley this empty.

Tottenham had done their best to encourage the locals to attend by starting adult tickets at £10 (S$18.20) and children at £5. It should be remembered that 26,244 watched them play Gillingham at White Hart Lane in this round of the competition last season.

The pattern was entrenched. Tottenham pushing; Barnsley battling off the back foot and causing problems when they were able to get out. Ugbo caught the eye with his mixture of deftness and braun and he ran through on 46 minutes for a gilt-edged opportunity. One-on-one with Michel Vorm, his shot was too close to the goalkeeper.

The tempo was higher in the second half; the shackles looser. Alli watched a low shot deflect wide while Harry Winks shot straight at Adam Davies following a Trippier incursion. The Tottenham breakthrough was coming and it arrived when Trippier zipped around the back and scraped over a low cross, having almost over-run the ball. Alli was in the right place to finish.