Rochdale ensure romance of the Cup still alive and well

Steven Davies scoring Rochdale's second goal against Tottenham, deep into stoppage time, to force a replay at Wembley.
Steven Davies scoring Rochdale's second goal against Tottenham, deep into stoppage time, to force a replay at Wembley.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • Whatever happens at Wembley in the replay, Rochdale fans will have a story to tell from the fifth round of the English FA Cup.

Their side, bottom of League One, do not have much in common with Italian giants Juventus, and even the nearby Pennines are modest undulations compared to the mighty Alps, but they will never forget the week they shared the same 2-2 scoreline against Tottenham.

Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino's high-flying English Premier League side rightly took the plaudits for their resilient, intelligent performance in Turin, and so should Rochdale's players here.

For this was no fluke. The third-tier League One side were the better team in the first half, tired in the second but then showed marvellous determination, and nous in the form of manager Keith Hill's canny use of substitutes like Steve Davies, whose equaliser in the third minute of stoppage time sealed the draw.

Hill said: "It was a feeling of reward (when Davies scored), not relief, because the performance deserved at least the opportunity for us to go to Wembley for a replay.

"I've always wanted to do that against a Premier League team and manager. Why not take them on and try to win?

"It could have been football suicide, but I thought we gained their respect and to score the goal we did was tremendous."

Spotland Stadium had shook with emotion when Rochdale took the lead just before half-time through aspiring dentist Ian Henderson.

Pochettino gave a first start to Lucas Moura, who looks set to be a swift favourite with the Spurs fans. The Brazilian winger, a £25 million (S$45.9 million) signing from Paris Saint-Germain, impressed with an equaliser on his full debut.

The Argentinian paid tribute to Rochdale, saying the way they had raised their game for the FA Cup was no shock in his eyes. "I was not surprised," he said.

"This competition is completely different. (Fourth-round opponents) Newport gave us a fantastic game and they lost their next game in the league 5-0. Of course we wanted to win but we have the possibility to win (the tie in a replay)."

It was here at Spotland where Kane made his professional debut, for Leyton Orient on loan from Tottenham, and he again made his mark from the spot in the 88th minute. Spurs could have been forgiven for believing they had their last-eight spot sewn up but Davies' late equaliser ensured otherwise.

So this was what the Cup is about, a moment in the spotlight for 30-year-old Davies, whose horrendous record of injuries, including a broken ankle to a fractured skull, inhibited a talent first showcased as a teenager at Tranmere Rovers.

The Cup is about him, about Rochdale's jubilant fans and Hill celebrating wildly.

THE TIMES LONDON, THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2018, with the headline 'Rochdale ensure romance of the Cup still alive and well'. Print Edition | Subscribe