It was an unusual vibe, with the stadium containing 23,926 supporters, and Mauricio Pochettino having made it plain the Carabao Cup was a long way down his trophy wishlist.
There is seemingly no way to keep the 21-year-old out of the limelight, whether for good or, sometimes, bad and he was on hand to shoot low past Adam Davies from close range for his third goal of the campaign.
Barnsley played a full part in a decent enough tie, with fierce backing from their fans in one enclosure of this great bowl, and the club that occupies 20th place in the Championship will wonder how it might have turned out if Ike Ugbo had converted a wonderful chance at the beginning of the second half.
Tottenham, though, deserved to win and they might have added to Alli’s goal with the substitute George-Kevin Nkoudou, Alli and Son Heung-min, twice, going close.
Tottenham called the tune in territorial terms but Barnsley were set up to fight in their compact 4-3-3 formation. Spurs needed to be patient while also remaining alive to Barnsley’s threat on the counter. It came principally through Ugbo, the on-loan Chelsea striker who impressed with his mixture of deftness and brawn.
Ugbo embarrassed Jan Vertonghen with one glorious flick and burst on halfway in the 43rd minute while he had earlier put Harvey Barnes away for a break. Vertonghen got back to tackle.
Barnsley’s big chance of the first half came from Ryan Hedges’s corner on 41 minutes, when Liam Lindsay nodded wide when well placed. Glory had beckoned. Ugbo would have an even bigger one in the 46th minute. Clean through with only Michel Vorm to beat, his shot was too close to the goalkeeper. “That save kept us alive,” Pochettino said.
Tottenham’s first-half threat had been limited to set pieces. The debutant centre-half, Juan Foyth, who had a few wobbles but showed his promise, flashed an early header wide from Kieran Trippier’s corner with what was his first meaningful touch in English football and only Fernando Llorente knows how he did not open the scoring midway through the period. He rose all alone to meet another Trippier corner but from close range he was horribly off target.
There was no getting away from the weirdness of seeing the stadium this empty. The top tier was shut while the middle one was sparsely populated. “Wembley’s about finals for me,” Paul Heckingbottom, the Barnsley manager, said. “It was like a different stadium tonight.”
Spurs had done their best to encourage fans to attend by starting adult tickets at £10 and children’s at £5. It ought to be remembered that they attracted 26,244 for the Gillingham tie at White Hart Lane for this stage of the competition last season.
The tempo was higher in the second half, the shackles looser. Alli watched a low shot deflect wide while Harry Winks shot straight at Davies following an Trippier incursion.
The Tottenham breakthrough felt as though it was coming and it did so when Trippier zipped around the back and scraped over a low cross, having almost overrun the ball. Alli was in the right place to finish.
“We had possession but it was difficult to find ways to create chances,” Pochettino said. “That we had our first shot on target after 60 minutes speaks well of our opponents.”
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