Spurs’ uncanny run of clean sheets in home games against the European champions was finally ended two minutes from time as a heroic rearguard was finally breached in the tamest of fashions.
Nathan Ake stabbed in from a couple of yards after Guglielmo Vicario tried and failed to clear Kevin de Bruyne’s inswinging corner under pressure from Ruben Dias. Tottenham hoped for a VAR reprieve but there was no foul – their only avenue of escape.
Somehow, Spurs had beaten Pep Guardiola’s men five times in a row at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium without even conceding before this one, and they looked on course to at least take it to a replay at the Etihad – until the late winner.
In truth, cup holders City deserved their break. They were the better side and Ange Postecoglou’s men spent most of the night massed in defence, waiting and hoping for a counter-attack that might steal the show. It was not to be.
The game did not live up to expectations and was definitely no repeat of their recent encounter – an absolutely thrilling 3-3 draw in Manchester in December. For some reasons, matches in north London between these two always seem cagey and goal-shy.
In the end, Spurs could take heart from their fine defending and from the sight of James Maddison back in the ranks. The midfielder came off the bench to thunderous applause but was unable to conjure the magic his team needed.
Spurs had to survive a couple of hairy moments before the change-around to stay in contention. When Oscar Bobb fired in after Guglielmo Vicario could only partially stop a low shot from Phil Foden, it needed VAR to confirm an offside flag in what was a hairline decision.
And were a bodies-on-the-line moments needed to preserve the clean sheet – the most notable coming when Pedro Porro dived across to block a Bobb shot. Scorer of the sublime winner in the last round against Burnley, the Spaniard is not too shabby when it comes to defending either.
It said much for the home side’s commitment that Rodrigo Bentancur and skipper for the day Cristian Romero were also busting guts to get in the way of the shot at the end of some slick build-up play. After the break, it was Micky van de Ven’s turn to come up with the last-ditch heroics to deny Julian Alvarez.
Bernardo Silva caused a few heartbeats to skip but Vicario got well behind it. Even more dicey was the play moments later when Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg gifted the ball to Foden and a square ball opened up a glorious chance for De Byuyne, who had not been on long. The Belgian, still rusty as he returns after a long lay-off, contrived to put it wide.
Spurs strikers were forced to feed on scraps. Brennan Johnson was almost put on the clear, but Stefan Ortega came out to smother. Richarlison struggled to make any impact and only the occasional scurry down the left from Timo Werner promised reward.
In the end, though, City’s greater control was decisive.