LONDON • If this was to be Christian Eriksen's last match as a Tottenham Hotspur player, he went out with a victory.
The Denmark midfielder played the full 90 minutes as Spurs held off a late fightback from second-tier Middlesbrough to win 2-1 in their FA Cup replay on Tuesday and advance to the fourth round, where they will face Southampton.
After the final whistle, he handed his jersey to a fan in the crowd at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, potentially a sign that he might have gotten his wish to leave the club where he has been since 2013.
His contract expires at the end of the season and he has been linked with a move to Inter Milan. The Guardian reported that the Serie A side have offered an initial €10 million (S$15 million) but Spurs are holding out for twice that amount.
Jose Mourinho's selection of Eriksen, 27, was met with some jeers from a section of the home support and it sounded significant when the manager said afterwards that "if his decision is to leave, I think he has to leave with his head up".
The spotlight was not all on him though. Argentinians Giovani Lo Celso and Erik Lamela, the best players on the pitch, caught the eye with their skill and urgency and they scored the goals that embossed a fine first-half display that gave Spurs their first win in five matches.
Mourinho likened the duo, who were paired together for the first time since he took charge in November, to the club's former Argentinian FA Cup heroes Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa.
He asked: "Do you want me to call them Ardiles and Villa? They played very well. Ardiles and Villa would not be ashamed of them, for sure."
Older Spurs fans could be forgiven for going all misty-eyed about Ardiles and Villa, who both shook up English football when they arrived at White Hart Lane in 1978.
Ardiles was one of their greatest foreign signings while Villa famously scored a solo winner in the 1981 FA Cup final replay against Manchester City.
Lamela and Lo Celso have a long way to go to win that kind of adulation but inspiring Spurs to a first FA Cup since 1991 would do the trick.
While Lamela has made more than 200 appearances since joining from Roma in 2013, Lo Celso's loan spell from Real Betis has been frustrating after an early-season injury.
Do you want me to call them Ardiles and Villa? They played very well. Ardiles and Villa would not be ashamed of them, for sure.
JOSE MOURINHO, Tottenham manager, on his Argentinian duo, Erik Lamela and Giovani Lo Celso.
But he is beginning to show the kind of form that would convince Spurs to make his move permanent.
"Lamela has been coming back step by step. You could see his fitness is coming," Mourinho said.
"And Gio again has been step by step. I am happy with the boys. They played with intensity."
Middlesbrough battled back in the second half and ensured a nerve-wracking end to the game when George Saville struck in the 83rd minute.
"I told my players at half-time if we don't score (to make it) 3-0 then if (it is) 2-1, we would be in trouble and it happened," Mourinho said.
Spurs announced yesterday they have signed Portugal midfielder Gedson Fernandes from Benfica on an 18-month loan deal with an option to make the transfer permanent for a reported £56 million (S$98 million).
THE GUARDIAN, ASSOCIATED PRESS, REUTERS