LONDON, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Jose Mourinho likened Giovani Lo Celso and Erik Lamela to Tottenham Hotspur’s former Argentine FA Cup heroes as they combined to send his side past Middlesbrough at the second time of asking on Tuesday.
Paired together for the first time since Mourinho took charge in November, they were both on target within the opening 15 minutes as Tottenham won the third-round replay 2-1.
The lively Lo Celso produced a cool finish after two minutes to open the scoring and Lamela did the same shortly afterwards for his fourth goal of the season.
Both impressed as second-half substitutes in Tottenham’s 1-0 home defeat by Premier League Liverpool on Saturday and they provided the out-of-form hosts with some much-needed spark to get past Boro and set up a fourth-round tie away to Southampton.
Older Spurs fans could be forgiven for going all misty-eyed about Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa, the Argentine duo who shook up English football when they arrived to a ticker-tape welcome at White Hart Lane in 1978.
Ardiles was one of Tottenham’s greatest foreign signings while Villa famously scored a solo winner in the 1981 FA Cup final replay against Manchester City.
Lamela and Lo Celso have a long way to go to win the kind of adulation Ardiles and Villa enjoyed but inspiring Spurs to a first FA Cup title since 1991 would do the trick.
“They played very well. I don’t think (Osvaldo) Ardiles and Villa would have been ashamed at all,” Mourinho, who started the game with five south Americans on the pitch, said.
“They played well. The team played well. There were some sloppy passes in the second half.”
While attacking midfielder Lamela has made more than 200 appearances for Tottenham since signing from Roma in 2013, Lo Celso’s loan spell from Real Betis has been frustrating so far after he picked up an injury early in the season.
He is beginning to show the kind of form, however, that would convince Tottenham to make his move permanent.
“Lamela was out for so long, he has been coming back step by step. Playing half an hour against Liverpool and 90 here. You could see his fitness is coming,” Mourinho said.
“And Gio again has been step by step. He was so so good against Liverpool and so so good here again. I am happy with the boys. They played with intensity.”
The form of Lamela and Lo Celso is timely for Tottenham with Danish playmaker Christian Eriksen, out of contract in June, reportedly close to signing for Inter Milan.
Eriksen surprisingly played the full 90 minutes against Boro and Mourinho said he can “hold his head up high”.
“He played very well. Very professional which is what I expect from him,” he said. “If his decision is to leave I think he has to leave with his head up.
“I think he did it for us today.” (Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Richard Pullin)