Colchester United’s Carabao Cup charge continues. Not content with seeing off Premier League outfit Crystal Palace in the previous round, they added the scalp of Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday with a dramatic penalty shoot-out win after a goalless stalemate.
Seventy places and around £400million of talent less well off, League Two Colchester, the lowest-ranked team left in the competition, wrestled ownership of the sports headlines once again and left Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs heading back to the capital with plenty to ponder as they look to get their season going.
Colchester assistant manager Steve Ball explained to The Sportsman the significance of the result in once again besting Premier League opposition and moving to within 90 minutes of the quarter-finals of a major cup competition:
“There’s just a fantastic feeling around the football club,” says Ball, a former Arsenal youth-team player.
“Everybody involved at the club for a number of years must consider that one of the best nights in the club’s recent history. I thought the Crystal Palace game was a brilliant evening but with all respect to Palace, this betters it.
“Beating Tottenham is just a huge achievement. Spurs having to turn to Christian Eriksen, Heung-min Son and Erik Lamela towards the end of the game shows how nervous they were about not getting a result.
“We had the beauty of it going to a shoot-out against Palace in the last round and four out of our five spot-kick takers in that match were on the field against Spurs, so we could have the exact four takers in the exact same order. The takers had already been picked and they themselves were fully focused on the job.”
Colchester midfielder and youth product Tom Lapslie missed the last round versus Palace, but took the glory at his home ground with the decisive penalty after Lucas Moura’s effort rattled the cross-bar, sending the Community Stadium into rapture with a historic winner for John McGreal’s side.
“It’s quite special when that goal goes in,” Lapslie told The Sportsman, “I stepped up for it, was quite calm leading up to taking it and simply ignored the outcomes. It was just about making sure I hit the target.
“The scenes and jubilation after that were pretty mad and it’s only really then when you realise what’s happened.”
The narrative had switched dramatically throughout the course of the shoot-out. Eriksen - one of the best dead-ball specialists to have graced the EPL - had Spurs’ first effort saved by U’s keeper Dean Gerken, who had earlier denied Lucas Moura’s strong free-kick during the match.
Whilst Dele Alli and Lamela subsequently tucked the ball away for the visitors, the outcome now swayed towards the home side. However, Jevani Brown’s tame ‘Panenka’ effort for Colchester’s third allowed Spurs keeper Paulo Gazzaniga to dive, then retrieve himself from the ground to punch away. Colchester may well have began to think their luck had run out.
“These things happen,” said Lapslie, “You can’t score all of them.”
Ball also sympathises with Brown: “We always say to the players ‘Have conviction in the way you take a penalty’. In Jevani’s defence he had it in mind to take the penalty in the way he did.
“Did I want him to do it? No. But ultimately it's a credit to the way we bounced back.”
Moura’s miss from 12 yards led Lapslie to take the fifth, which the midfielder - part of Colchester United from the age of 16 - lashed into the bottom left-hand corner to seal his side’s best run in the competition since the 1974/75 season.
The result carries an extra bit of significance for the assistant gaffer thanks to his links to Arsenal. That time as part of the Gunners’ set-up from the age of nine to 20, through the youth team, the reserves, and to a professional contract, mean he knows plenty of people who will share joy in Colchester’s triumph.
“As an Arsenal fan as a kid, I never had any affection towards Spurs. The initial draw for me personally was brilliant, and after the game I got many calls from many Arsenal friends to thank me for that result.”
While the draw, of course, brings fervent excitement with a Premier League match-up a likelihood, feet on the ground is now the name of the game for the Essex outfit. Taking the individual glory isn’t on Lapslie’s agenda, for example, despite it being his breakthrough moment.
“Defensively, our shape was excellent. We knew we wouldn’t have a lot of the ball,” says the 23-year-old. “Coming into the game we knew it would be about how well we defended to determine how well the evening would go. It’s all credit to the boys, who put their bodies on the line, ran their socks off and will have a few sore legs this morning.”
And what’s next for this Goliath-slaying side?
“Going to any of the Premier League’s side’s stadia would be a great honour,” says self-confessed Liverpool fan Lapslie.
“Another top team - a Manchester United, an Arsenal, a Liverpool - would, of course, be amazing,” agrees Ball.
“Whatever happens from now on doesn’t discount from the fact that this run has been memorable for this club.
“Obviously, after the game, there was total elation from the players. But we enjoy it today, and tomorrow it’s back to thinking about Macclesfield away on Saturday.”