Sheffield, United Kingdom: Two moments of magic from Christian Eriksen helped Tottenham Hotspur reach the final of the League Cup with a 3-2 aggregate victory over League One club Sheffield United.
Tottenham's Christian Eriksen celebrates after scoring
Dane Eriksen's sublime first-half free-kick put Maurico Pochettino's team 1-0 up on the night and they looked to be in cruise control before two goals in as many minutes from 18-year-old substitute Che Adams levelled the tie overall. But a calm finish from Eriksen with three minutes left meant the Premier League side prevailed without the need for extra-time.
With most of the 30,236 supporters roaring on the home team at a Bramall Lane lashed by wintry showers, it was the sort of night to expose any flaws in character and Tottenham only just survived. Their reward is a meeting with Chelsea in the final on March 1, Spurs' first Wembley final since 2009, and a chance to win the League Cup for a fifth time. "When they scored they got confidence, and you saw the crowd, but we had to play our best," said Eriksen.
"To be in the final is what everyone wants at Tottenham." Sheffield United manager Nigel Clough praised his players. "I'm incredibly proud of the players, to run a team like Spurs so close, that bit of quality made the difference," he said. United will point to marginal moments that mounted up and cost them the tie and, before Eriksen's opener, they might have taken the lead and levelled the aggregate score.
Michel Vorm's late error led to Tottenham's FA Cup exit at the hands of Leicester City on Saturday and the goalkeeper endured another uncomfortable moment as the Blades made a bright start. The Netherlands international, under pressure from Marc McNulty, spilt Jamal Campbell-Ryce's cross and McNulty prodded the ball to Jamie Murphy, only for the winger to see his shot blocked on the line by Kyle Walker, Tottenham's Sheffield-born defender.
Tottenham's defeat came on the same day that Chelsea were stunned 4-2 by League One side Bradford City and Manchester City lost 2-0 against Middlesbrough, of the Championship. Clough has criticised top-flight teams for deprioritising the FA Cup and League Cups and he is in a position to judge. This was only his second defeat in 20 FA or League Cup fixtures with the South Yorkshire club.
The Blades beat Southampton in the last round and have beaten fellow Premier League clubs West Ham United and Queens Park Rangers in the FA Cup this season. Even given their impressive record in knockout competitions, Sheffield United knew it they faced an uphill task to reach Wembley for a second time in two seasons, having reached the FA Cup semi-final last season.
Trailing 1-0 from the first leg, Clough had spoken of the need to prevent the Premier League side from scoring but, faced with Eriksen's quality that is easier said than done. A momentary lapse in concentration from Jay McEveley cost Sheffield United in the first leg, with the defender conceding a penalty for handball.
This time it was Bob Harris who gave Tottenham a helping hand. His poor clearance allowed Tottenham to break. Michael Doyle fouled Benjamin Stambouli and Eriksen whipped in a magical free kick to score his ninth goal of the season.
It left the home team needing three goals to progress and it looked like a smooth ride into the final for Tottenham until the introduction of Adams as a substitute. Within five minutes of coming on, the teenager had scored his first two goals in professional football to stun Tottenham First, he met Ryan Flynn's cross to fire the ball beyond Vorm to give the home fans hope.
Two minutes later, Adams converted Jamie Murphy's cross to give the supporters something to really shout about. With the aggregate score at 2-2, the match was heading for extra time but another moment of magic from Eriksen eased Tottenham's worries. The 22-year-old former Ajax midfielder latched on to Kane's through ball and clipped a delightful finish beyond Howard and into the bottom corner.