FA Cup is alive and well in Stevenage
At The Lamex Stadium
From the moment Harry Redknapp arrived at the Lamex Stadium to the applause of Stevenage supporters and high fives from a man trapped inside a giant bear's outfit, this was a day with an old-fashioned FA Cup feel about it.
The circus was in town and a giant big top festooned with stars and stripes towered over one end of the compact stadium Stevenage hoped would be home to an FA Cup fifth round shock against Tottenham.
To call this goalless draw a contender for the greatest show on earth would stretch the elasticity of reality to breaking point - but there was more than enough in the ingredients to keep the romantics happy.
It was the sort of occasion that reassures the waverers that the FA Cup is alive and well. It was certainly thriving along Broadhall Way on a crisp Sunday lunchtime.
It was a carnival atmosphere at the Lamex Stadium. Photo: Getty
Redknapp may be seen in more exotic locations in the near future, whether it is with Spurs or England, but this was pure FA Cup theatre as just over 6,000 packed in to see if Stevenage could embarrass the club standing third in the Premier League.
In truth, for all of Stevenage's wonderful endeavour, it never carried the air of a match that threatened to scratch any sort of scar on Redknapp's CV as the Football Association weigh up whether to make the people's favourite the successor to Fabio Capello as England coach.
Stevenage rarely threatened - but what Gary Smith's side did do was expend every drop of energy and spirit at their disposal to earn a thoroughly deserved, not to mention lucrative, replay at White Hart Lane.
And, as Redknapp acknowledged, it was played out in an a vibrant FA Cup atmosphere on a bobbly pitch that gave Stevenage encouragement throughout. It was not the surface that created the biggest difficulties for Spurs, however, it was their well-organised and disciplined opponents who were a credit to League One.
Redknapp's homework led him to playing three central defenders in Ryan Nelsen, Younes Kaboul and Michael Dawson to combat Stevenage's direct approach. And while there was an understandable lack of the highest quality, Spurs were not allowed a moment's rest.
Players like Lawrie Wilson typified the Stevenage approach, not leaving anything behind with a man-of-the-match display and an attitude echoed by his team-mates. They may be 47 rungs below Spurs on the league ladder, but they stood alongside them for much of this match.
For Stevenage, this was a day to be enjoyed and to put their club on show, something they have become accustomed to doing in the FA Cup in the past, particularly when Newcastle United were well beaten here last season.
The media interest stretched beyond the normal press box facilities, manager Smith gave his thoughts to television during the game and chairman Phil Wallace looked a proud and happy man as he conducted a series of interviews pitchside afterwards.
In their different ways, this was a meeting between two clubs on the up - Stevenage hoping to continue their remarkable rise with a place in the Championship and Tottenham on a return to the Champions League.
Whether Redknapp is with them if that day arrives is a question for another day because here all his focus had to be on ensuring Spurs did not become another shock statistic of this great tournament.
Even then there was an England twist to the story with FA chairman David Bernstein, who heads the group choosing the next manager, in the crowd.
Redknapp admitted it was not the best showcase for his abilities, with Spurs not allowed to show the style and swagger that has been their trademark this season. Reacting to Bernstein's presence he said: "I bet he was impressed with the football I served up, yeah. He was probably thinking 'who is this geezer?'"
Bernstein knows the geezer well and knows this was not a typical Spurs performance, even though earning a replay makes them overwhelming favourites to seal a home quarter-final against Bolton.
Spurs fans chanted their support for Redknapp once more while giving an inevitable nod to the struggles of north London neighbours Arsenal after an FA Cup exit at Sunderland followed hard on the heels of their Champions League thrashing against AC Milan.
"Arsene Wenger - We Want You To Stay" was an early chant to echo around The Lamex. They also want Redknapp to stay - but it seems increasingly likely the FA will soon be putting that theory to the test.
For now, Redknapp's main priority was ensuring Spurs stayed in the FA Cup. And that they did on a day when their League One opponents did themselves proud and showed why it is still worth making a fuss of this competition.
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