Son Heung-min had no time for the romance of the Brentford story. The Championship club had never played a major semi-final in their 132-year history but they thought they had a springboard to victory midway through the second half.
Ivan Toney had headed home from point-blank range for what he thought was the goal to cancel out Moussa Sissoko’s 12th-minute opener and Brentford felt a jolt of momentum. And then they did not.
Most people had forgotten VAR was in use for this Carabao Cup semi‑final. It had not featured previously in the competition. But up it cranked to spot that Toney had been fractionally in front of Sissoko, the last Spurs defender. It was a blow to Brentford and Son was quick to twist the knife.
It was a typically slicing run by the Tottenham attacker on to a Tanguy Ndombele pass following a quick transition and, when he shrugged off Henrik Dalsgaard’s challenge, everybody knew what would happen next. The finish was cool and precise, Brentford were crushed, heading towards a first defeat in 17 games and Spurs could begin to look forward to the final on 25 April against one of the Manchester clubs.
Brentford’s frustration was encapsulated by what happened with six minutes to play. Josh Dasilva might not have meant it but he went over the top of the ball and raked his studs down the shin of Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, who went to ground in agony and anger.
As play went on, with Højbjerg lying prone, the Brentford bench were furious. They sensed a ruse. “I know him,” bellowed Thomas Frank, their Danish manager, who had coached Højbjerg at Denmark youth level. In other words, he knew he was not hurt. “It’s a disgrace,” yelled one of Frank’s backroom staff.
It was nothing of the sort. VAR took a look and did not need long to advise the red card for Dasilva while Højbjerg limped off, having rolled down his sock to reveal a long cut. Brentford had simply allowed the heartbreak to overwhelm them.
Frank had recovered his composure by full-time and he embraced Højbjerg. There were no hard feelings, it was heat-of-the-moment stuff, but Højbjerg and Tottenham did not mind. They could tolerate a few battle scars because they had what they wanted – a shot at the final and the chance to end the club’s 13-year trophy drought.
José Mourinho had billed this game as his most important at the club because of what it meant. Now he will have an even more important one, as he chases the trophy to harden the squad’s mentality and give himself a slice of history.
Mourinho has won the competition four times – the same number as Brian Clough and Sir Alex Ferguson. No manager has won it five times.
What is the secret, he was asked. To take it seriously, he replied, and he certainly did that with his starting XI, which was practically full strength. It was not a vintage Spurs performance – Mourinho said he was unhappy with it – but they controlled the first half and responded when Brentford threatened to make a game of it.
Sissoko scored his first goal since December 2019 when he capitalised on slack marking to head home from Sergio Reguilon’s cross and Spurs might have had more before the interval. Son hit a curling shot straight at David Raya while the Brentford goalkeeper saved brilliantly after Lucas Moura’s header from a Son corner had looped up off Toney.
There was greater tempo and spice after half-time, although it still did not feel like a semi-final that Brentford had waited so long to contest. This is what happens when the only cries that can be heard are from the players.
Brentford were slightly fortunate not to lose Sergi Canós to a second yellow card on 47 minutes for a foul on Lucas and then came the first of two big chances for the equaliser.
Bryan Mbeuno beat Davinson Sánchez on the byline and, when the Spurs centre-half nibbled back at him, it felt as though he had the invitation to go down for a penalty. Mbeuno wanted more and he crossed for Toney, who was denied by a saving block by Serge Aurier. “He was very honest not to dive,” Mourinho said of Mbeuno.
Aurier flashed high and Son volleyed off target but Brentford had come to life and they thought they had their moment when Ethan Pinnock headed back a corner. Hugo Lloris could only touch the ball up and there was Toney to convert. His joy was short-lived.
The curiosity from a Spurs point of view is that it has taken them only three games to reach the final. Then again, this is a season like no other.
Brentford had taken the scalps of four Premier League clubs. The fifth was beyond them.