The game plan was particularly wise from Morecambe: fight, pester, tackle and nick a goal. Not that Antonio Conte would have seen it that way — this would have been viewed more like a comedy of errors than a comedy sketch for Tottenham’s boss.
The strategy carefully devised by manager Stephen Robinson — who missed this game after contracting Covid — and his assistant Diarmuid O’Carroll took Morecambe all the way through to the 85th minute with hope of causing an almighty upset.
In the end, they were left heartbroken, Tottenham somehow snatching a victory from a match that looked like ending in utter humiliation.
But to call Morecambe the losers here doesn’t do them justice. Out of the Cup? Yes. Losers? Absolutely not.
Harry Kane (right) celebrates scoring Tottenham’s third goal with Emerson Royal in a 3-1 FA Cup third round victory
Spurs were forced to call on their main striker from off the bench, with the England captain scoring with two minutes left
Morcambe’s Jonathan Obika reacts after his side fell just 16 minutes short of recording a famous FA Cup upset
The League One side were brave and courageous and had they displayed a little more quality in front of goal, then who knows?
This proved an almighty fright for Conte, who despite the win won’t have veered away too much from the scathing assessment of his players in midweek when he branded them a ‘middle’ team.
Conte rested his big-hitters, a logical decision given the week ahead — a 2-0 deficit to overcome in Wednesday’s Carabao Cup semi-final second-leg against Chelsea, before Sunday’s north London derby.
This was an opportunity for Tottenham’s fringe players to make a mark — but it was one most of them woefully passed up.
Anthony O’Connor stunned Tottenham Hotspur after giving Morecambe a first half lead in their FA Cup third round tie
Tottenham supporters look on stunned as O’Connor celebrates near the corner flag following his opening goal
The centre-back struck in the 33rd minute to give the League One side an incredible lead against the Premier League outfit
TOTTENHAM (3-4-3): Gollini 5; Tanganga 5, Rodon 6, Davies 6; Doherty 6, Winks 7.5, Ndombele 6.5 (Skipp 69, 6.5), Sessegnon 7 (Royal 87); Gil 5.5 (Lucas 69, 7), Dele (Kane 69, 7), Lo Celso 6 (Scarlett 89).
Subs: Lloris, Hojbjerg, Sanchez, Paskotsi.
Manager: Conte: 6.5
MORECAMBE (3-5-2): Carson 7; McLaughlin 7, O’Connor 8, Bedeau 7 (Gibson 65, 6.5); Cooney 6.5 (Jones 77), McLoughlin 7, Diagouraga 7.5 (Wildig 77), McCalmont 6.5; Stockton 6.5, Ayunga 7 (Obika 58, 6.5).
Subs: Letheren, Jones, McDonald, Delaney, Mensah, Gnahoua.
Booked: Diagouraga, Cooney.
Manager: O’Carroll: 7
Referee: John Brooks – 6.5
Boos greeted Conte’s players at half-time and they can have no complaints.
It was not only the fact they were trailing to a team fighting relegation to the fourth tier.
The performance was devoid of any verve, quality or urgency. Tottenham’s second-string simply expected to turn up and win. They learned the hard way.
Had Tanguy Ndombele and Ben Davies converted decent chances inside the opening three minutes then perhaps the game would have developed differently.
Had Matt Doherty not struck a post from Giovani Lo Celso’s 19th-minute corner, then maybe they would have been spared the jeers.
Ifs, buts and maybes don’t cut it, though. They certainly won’t for someone of Conte’s calibre.
And Tottenham only had themselves to blame when Morecambe captain Anthony O’Connor escaped the attentions of Japhet Tanganga in the 33rd minute to thump home Alfie McCalmont’s corner.
The travelling supporters lost it, much like Tanganga had inexplicably lost O’Connor.
You would imagine Conte, at least on the inside, was overcome with emotion too — but not of the happy kind.
Had Jacob Bedeau generated more purchase on his header in the 42nd minute then who knows how the suffering Spurs fans would have reacted.
Harry Kane, Lucas Moura and Oliver Skipp were sent to warm-up immediately after the restart.
As Spurs struggled to break down Morecambe, Tanguy Ndombele was jeered off the pitch by home fans after he was subbed
There was relief around the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium’s home fans when Harry Winks’ free-kick looped into the net
Winks celebrates with Lucas Moura after dragging Spurs level with just 16 minutes left in the third round tie
Yet the threat of the hook appeared to have zero impact on Tottenham’s players and Cole Stockton squandered another decent Morecambe opportunity in the 50th minute.
Dele Alli, though, forced Trevor Carson into an instinctive save in the 54th minute with a clever flick before Doherty nodded Lo Celso’s corner wide from the resultant corner as Tottenham finally flexed their muscles.
Ryan Sessegnon then flashed an effort narrowly wide in the 62nd minute as the pressure on Morecambe’s heroic back five — led excellently by O’Connor — came under mounting pressure.
The heavy artillery arrived in the 69th minute — Kane, Skipp and Moura all introduced to an emphatic reception from the home fans.
Spurs then pushed heavily for a winning goal, with Lucas Moura taking the ball past the keeper before giving them the lead
Ndombele was booed as he slowly trudged off to throw further uncertainty over his future at the club.
It was a desperate move from Conte, who surely did not want to use the trio. But these were certainly desperate times.
What started as a first-half glitch was developing into an almighty nightmare.
Eventually, though, the cavalry came to Tottenham’s rescue. Harry Winks almost couldn’t bring himself to celebrate after his inswinging free-kick from the left escaped everyone in the box, including goalkeeper Carson, to sail in at the back-post to equalise for Spurs in the 74th minute.
Moura’s goal came with just five minutes to play and spared huge embarrassment for Antonio Conte’s side
Despite securing progress into the fourth round, Conte will have been left seriously concerned with his fringe players
It was a reward for Winks, who insisted after the game that he meant the strike.
Tottenham’s best player on a difficult afternoon, the midfielder is rejuvenated under Conte — and it should not be too long before he is a regular in this Tottenham side again. Winks and his team-mates dashed back to restart the game.
Morecambe knew what was coming. And while the visitors were still hoping for a miracle, Winks’ goal left them on the floor. Indeed, spare a thought for Ryan McLaughlin, whose mistake ultimately killed the dream. There looked little danger when the defender received the ball just inside Tottenham’s half but he hesitated. And hesitated again.
Harry Kane scored Spurs’ third goal of the afternoon as the Premier League side eventually put the tie to bed late in the game
Next thing he knew, Moura had stolen the ball and was off sprinting towards Morecambe’s goal. No one was catching the Brazilian, who rounded Carson, before scoring the winner.
Kane scored another before the end to seal victory but Morecambe were flat-out by then.
Spurs, their boss and supporters breathed a heavy sigh of relief. All that McLaughlin heard was noise.
His colleagues tried consoling him but he would have taken no notice as Spurs dodged a shameful loss.