Shortly after Roger East’s final whistle, the wonderful players of WycombeWanderers trooped back on to the pitch to accept the applause of their defiant travelling supporters. They looked as though they had the weight of the world on their shoulders. Breathing heavily, dragging their feet across the muddy grass, their bodies aching, you could have been forgiven for thinking they had each just finished a marathon. Not quite. But they had just run the race of their lives, only to falter with the finishing line in sight.
The side from League Two had come agonisingly close to pulling off one of the great FA Cup upsets and had given Tottenham Hotspur, a team gearing themselves for an assault on the Premier League title, an almighty fright on their own ground.
Wycombe led 2-0 at half-time and had one foot in the fifth round when Garry Thompson restored their lead at 3-2 in the 84th minute. That was when Tottenham could have collapsed entirely. They were down to 10 men, having lost Kieran Tripper to a hip injury after using all their substitutes, but instead they demonstrated the force of their character by equalising thanks to an opportunistic strike from Dele Alli and snatching victory when Joe Jacobson turned Son Heung-min’s shot into his own net in the seventh minute of added time.
A relieved Mauricio Pochettino embraced Gareth Ainsworth at the end. “Well played,” the Argentinian told Wycombe’s manager, before neatly summing up a impossibly chaotic match. “That is football.”
Left to his own devices, Ainsworth stood alone on the halfway line. The bottom lip trembled a little. Wycombe did not deserve to lose, least of all like this.
He was in a better mood later, although was aggrieved that Tottenham’s winner arrived 10 seconds after the allotted six minutes of added time. “They’ve done the whole town proud,” he said. “I was gutted at the end, but the overriding emotion was pride.”
Fifth in League Two and unbeaten in 16 matches, Wycombe attacked from the first minute and almost took an early lead when Sido Jombati’s deep cross culminated in Paul Hayes heading against the bar from close range after fine work from Adebayo Akinfenwa at the far post. Wycombe’s captain would not allow that miss to affect him.
Pochettino made nine changes to the team that drew with Manchester City last Saturday, but there were too many vague performances in the first half. Wycombe’s endeavour unnerved their hosts with Dominic Gape and Luke O’Nien winning the midfield battle and their ploy of aiming long balls towards Akinfenwa spread panic.
There was little surprise when Wycombe scored in the 23rd minute. Michel Vorm tipped a volley from Hayes wide and when the otherwise anonymous Josh Onomah headed Jacobson’s corner to the Wycombe forward, he lashed in a meaty volley with his left foot.
It was a goal to savour for the 33-year-old and he doubled Wycombe’s lead when Sam Wood’s foray into the area tempted Cameron Carter-Vickers into a clumsy challenge that betrayed the 19-year-old defender’s inexperience. Hayes squeezed his penalty past Vorm, sparking joyous scenes.
Tottenham were stunned. Son had almost given them the lead after the erratic Jamal Blackman presented him with an open goal, only to screw wide from a tight angle, while Hayes cleared off the line from Moussa Sissoko. But Tottenham were incoherent. “If you cannot play this type of game, we will have a problem,” Pochettino said.
As Pochettino noted, however, Wycombe had jabbed at Tottenham’s pride and the favourites responded with a few crunching blows, although they were fortunate not to lose Harry Winks to a red card when the young midfielder shoved O’Nien to the ground.
Vincent Janssen’s introduction in place of the aimless Georges-Kévin N’Koudou gave Tottenham a focal point and the increasingly dangerous Son reduced the deficit when his deflected shot flew inside Blackman’s near post.
Pochettino threw on Alli and Moussa Dembélé and Wycombe began to wilt. Tottenham equalised when Roger East questionably decided that Aaron Pierre had obstructed Janssen, who bundled his penalty under Blackman in the 64th minute.
The drama was relentless. Tottenham lost Trippier and Wycombe somehow found a second wind. Myles Weston produced an electric dribble, surging past Eric Dier on the left, speeding into the space vacated by Trippier and whipping a beautiful cross into the middle. Garry Thompson, another substitute, rose majestically to send a classic header past Vorm before running the length of the pitch to celebrate with Wycombe’s fans.
In the 89th minute, Blackman’s poor clearance came back at him and Alli cleverly threaded a low finish into the left corner.
Back to Adams Park for the replay, then? Not quite. Blackman saved brilliantly from Janssen, but then the Dutch striker released Son. Jacobson got the final touch. Wycombe were heartbroken.TG