Tottenham Hotspur 3 Bolton Wanderers 1: After all the emotion, the match, but no great romantic tale. However much of a tonic victory for Bolton Wanderers might have been for Fabrice Muamba, still in hospital just a few miles away, it would to be brutally honest have been footballing larceny.
Tottenham, in qualifying for an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley on 15 April against Chelsea, were so superior that the scoreline could have reached embarrassing proportions but for a superb display by Adam Bogdan in Bolton's goal. It was almost ridiculous that a minute from time Kevin Davies should reduce the deficit to a single goal but perspective was restored when another substitute Louis Saha scored with the last kick of the match.
The visiting manager, Owen Coyle, maintaining the spirit that has pervaded both camps since the original ghastly incident, acknowledged: "I don't think anyone can argue with the fact that Tottenham were the better side. They were terrific tonight. We could have passed the ball better but I was delighted at how we went about it."
His opposite number. Harry Redknapp, did not believe Spurs could have done anything much better apart from sparing him and the home crowd the frustration of 73 minutes without a goal. At half-time he told his players: "The goals have got to come, he can't keep making saves." For almost half an hour more, Bogdan did but finally he was beaten by an unlikely scorer in Ryan Nelsen, the defender registering his first goal since joining from Blackburn.
"I've never seen a keeper make so many saves," Redknapp added. "Now I'm looking forward to a great weekend of semi-finals with a London derby and a Merseyside derby." Spurs will take heart for theirs in the knowledge that they more than matched Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, and the same system, even with a few changes of personnel, served them well last night. Scott Parker again guarded the back four – who needed little protection on this occasion – and Rafael van der Vaart, while nominally wide on the right, was allowed to roam, Kyle Walker filling the space down the flank with his pace and control. That allowed Gareth Bale to work the left side, where he is much more comfortable, with Luka Modric, and it was from there that much of the threat came.
From early on Bolton survived only because of some remarkable work by their young Hungarian goalkeeper. He made nine or 10 saves, of which the highlights were two doubles early on. After only seven minutes Bogdan plunged down to beat away a shot by Jake Livermore and then leapt up to palm the follow-up from Modric over the bar. Before a quarter of the tie had been played he had repeated the feat, pushing away Emmanuel Adebayor's shot and holding Bale's effort.
In between times one Bale shot rippled the side-netting and another curled at just the wrong time, veering off target at the last moment. Bolton by then were forced into a change that did not help any attacking intent: Darren Pratley fouled Bale and suffered the indignity of seeing a yellow card being held up as he departed on a stretcher. Mark Davies and Chris Eagles had replaced Muamba and Martin Petrov from the original tie, but their team took a long time to even suggest they could replicate the goal that Pratley had forced in off Bale early on that day. When Carlo Cudicini held Ivan Klasnic's shot in the 69th minute it was his first save of the match.
Van der Vaart's dipping free-kick hit the bar with Bogdan for once beaten and the goalkeeper saved twice more at close range from Van der Vaart and Adebayor. Three-quarters of the game had gone when Tottenham sent on Jermain Defoe and finally broke through twice in almost as many minutes. Nelsen headed in Van der Vaart's corner at the far post and in the next move, the substitute set up Bale for the goal he deserved more than anyone.
Bolton supporters believing in miracles in Muamba's case must have hoped for a footballing one when Davies scored but Saha's riposte was almost immediate.
Man of the match Bale.
Match rating 7/10.
Referee H Webb (S Yorkshire).