Sunday, 11th March 2001
Defensive lapses gave Tottenham a 3-1 advantage midway through the second half, but even with substitute Svetislav Todorov's first goal for the club on 71 minutes the Hammers found the deficit too big to wipe out.
It started well enough for the Hammers; Freddy Kanoute was giving the Tottenham defence a torrid time but his efforts failed to provide a decent scoring opportunity - likewise with the rest of the team.
Tottenham took the lead on the half-hour mark; a deep throw into the box was lashed home by the unmarked Sergei Rebrov from just 8 yards.
But the Hammers fought back well, and earned their reward which arrived in the shape of a 20-yard rocket free-kick from Stuart Pearce just three minutes from the break. The same Pearce who only yesterday gave himself a 5% chance of making today's game.
So 1-1 at the break, and the game was beautifully poised.
Poised for disaster, as far as all Hammers fans are concerned. 12 minutes into the second half the visitors regained the lead, when a flicked on goal-kick fell into the path of Rebrov, who simply had to sweep the ball under the body of Hislop for a simple goal. Quite what Christian Dailly and Igor Stimac were doing at the time remains a mystery, but Rebrov must have dreams about scoring easy goals like this.
The anxiety circulating Upton Park turned to despair just four minutes later when Tottenham added the third, which eventually proved too much for the Hammers. Rebrov's corner found Gary Doherty at the far post, and the Irishman nodded home to make it 3-1. It was another deeply disappointing goal to concede from a West Ham perspective; Joe Cole, stationed at the far post moved out of the way of the ball as it left Doherty's head, and Shaka Hislop could only watch it fly over the line.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and such were the circumstances that saw rookie Bulgarian Svetislav Todorov thrown into the fray. But Harry Redknapp's gamble almost immediately paid dividends as the alice-banded striker latched on to a ricochet to slip the ball under the advancing Neil Sullivan.
So 3-2, and 19 minutes to play. It was the cue for football's version of the blitz as the Hammers peppered the Tottenham goal.
And but for the brilliance of Neil Sullivan we could well have been looking forward to Wednesday night's replay at White Hart Lane. The Scottish international made three outstanding saves in the final few, hectic minutes to deny the Hammers an equaliser, and another stab at a tie which they never really deserved to win.
So joy for Spurs at the end, and heartbreak for the thousands of Hammers desperate for something to cheer. Sky rubbed salt into the wounds by going close up on any minor crying into his claret and blue scarf.
At the end of the day the man you have to feel for most of all is Stuart Pearce. This was probably his last chance of winning the Cup, and he epitomised all that is great about football out there today with a performance that brought applause from all who had the pleasure to witness it. Playing with an ankle still black and blue from the injury gained against Chelsea midweek he was outstanding at the heart of the Hammers defence - just a shame his fellow centre-halfs couldn't match it.
Dailly and Stimac were a liability, contriving to offer Tottenham too many opportunities to refuse to take advantage of. Why Ian Pearce is left on the bench behind these two remains a mystery; I can only conclude that there is more to this than meets the eye, because if there was a better centre-half in the country than Pearce before his injury I didn't see him play.
The whole of today has left a bitter taste in the mouth. It makes a mockery of those fantastic days out at Walsall, Manchester United and Sunderland, which gave us the belief that this would finally be our year. What is it about this club that somehow manages to grab defeat from the jaws of victory year in, year out with little regard to the hopes and dreams of us, the poor supporters?
One thing's for sure - I might take a lot of stick over the next few days for this defeat, but I'll still be there next Saturday cheering the boys on. As will you, as will all of those other long-suffering Hammers fans.
And that, is what makes this club so special.
Shaka Hislop (7) Made some good saves as always, but yet again was indecisive when dealing with his defenders. Time and time again we looked susceptible at set plays.
Sebastien Schemmel (6) Not one of his better displays although he still managed to find space on the flank from time to time. Replaced in a tactical switch by Todorov in the second half.
Nigel Winterburn (6) Tore around like a man possessed, Nige clearly was up for this. But he failed to provide any width on the left that was necessary to open up the Tottenham rearguard.
Stuart Pearce (9) If only we had 11 Stuart Pearces. How he does it I do not know. Was there when called upon for every challenge, include some vital last ditch tackles that saved us from further embarrassment.
Igor Stimac (5) Was he out there today? I only saw him flapping when confronted by Les Ferdinand. Definitely at fault for the second goal, and far from assured throughout.
Christian Dailly (5) A mare. With Stimac alongside the Tottenham front line had a field day. Looked a good signing at first (like Song) but has made too many mistakes lately (like Song).
Frank Lampard (6) Wanted so desperately to emulate his father by winning the FA Cup - but not judging by today's disappointing performance. Against a weak Tottenham midfield he should have emposed himself much more on the game, but apart from one decent shot he wasn't in it.
Michael Carrick (6) Young Michael had a go, but it just wasn't to be his day. Still looking sluggish after the injury which had kept him out of the last two games he failed to get into the game like he usually does.
Joe Cole (5) Like Michael, just not Joey's day. At fault for one (possibly two) goals, he couldn't find a way through the resolute Spurs defence. One or two half chances but on this evidence he's a long way from the England side.
Freddy Kanoute (7) On another day Freddy would have notched a couple. How Sullivan got down to tip away his 18-yard thunderbolt right at the death was a mystery. Tormented Spurs from the off, one of our better players on the day. However, he missed another one-on-one with the score at 1-1 that he will certainly live to regret.
Paolo Di Canio (5) Paolo threatened to kill himself if we didn't win the Cup this year. Judging by this performance he won't have to, because he died out there on the turf today. Weirdly subdued, not once did he twist and turn the Tottenham defence in his own inimitable style, opting instead for the easy ball each time. Almost as if his confidence had disappeared overnight.
Svetislav Todorov (8) Hard to rate on the evidence of 23 minutes, but his one goal (and nearly two but for another fine Sullivan save) almost got the Hammers a replay. A good little player with bright prospects.
Subs Not Used: Craig Forrest, Ian Pearce, Rigobert Song, John Moncur.
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