By Oliver Platt at Carrow Road
Wednesday's Capital One Cup match between Norwich City and Tottenham did not come to life until its latter stages but even before the hosts' late onslaught there was an intriguing duel developing.
Mark Bunn and Hugo Lloris, goalkeepers who have spent most of the season so far deputising for established shot-stoppers, were both grasping the opportunity afforded to them by a cup competition with both hands.
Chances were few and far between in the first half but Bunn denied Gareth Bale from range and not only saved but held everything that came his way. At one point, Clint Dempsey tried to unsettle the former Blackburn Rovers player by barging him over as they competed for an aerial ball. It was a clear foul and the referee blew his whistle accordingly. Still, Bunn made the catch and did not let go.
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Bale finally beat him, though, and then Lloris took the spotlight. He had already rushed off his line to save at Steve Morison's feet before he parried Jonny Howson's powerful shot to safety.
As with Bunn, Lloris' most impressive trait was perhaps not his shot-stopping but his commanding and confident control of his penalty area. It did not matter where corners were aimed; France's No.1 would race to the scene with a decisive punch.
Bunn, though, would have the last laugh. There was nothing Lloris could do when Alexander Tettey's shot, which was heading wide of the post, deflected into the corner off Jan Vertonghen's leg. It has been suggested that he should have held on to Grant Holt's header in the build-up to the winning goal, but that criticism seems harsh in the extreme.
Lloris did well to make the save and whereas Tettey was first to the rebound when Bunn later saved Dempsey's penalty, Simeon Jackson beat Tottenham's defenders to this loose ball to make it 2-1.
By that point Norwich were piling on the pressure and it was clear that the best Spurs could hope for was extra-time and a break in which the Canaries' momentum might be slowed.
Moments before the winning goal, Lloris had brilliantly and bravely swiped the ball away from Holt's feet after the striker had beaten Steven Caulker with a flick of his boot. In truth, Bale, Lloris and Michael Dawson aside, enthusiasm and appetite for this cup tie always seemed more apparent in the home team.
For Lloris, another potential source of match practice is gone. From the perspective of the team as a whole, Tottenham will not lose too much sleep over their elimination from this competition. They have more than enough on their plate in balancing their promising league campaign with the Europa League.
Their participation in the FA Cup will begin in January, too. But the packed fixture schedule makes rotation required and so these matches can be vital for players on the outskirts of Andre Villas-Boas' starting XI.
With 42 caps for his country at age 25 and having arrived in north London at a cost of £12 million, you would not expect Lloris to be a member of that group. But while Villas-Boas needed Dempsey to fill in at centre-forward because Emmanuel Adebayor was ill and Jermain Defoe required a rest, the Portuguese has an abundance of riches at the opposite end of the pitch.
Brad Friedel's quality and consistency shows few signs of diminishing, even at 41. Carlo Cudicini, an able and experienced back-up, two years his junior, played in the third round tie against Carlisle United. Heurelho Gomes, a sometimes erratic but perfectly adequate goalkeeper, has not been afforded a single minute of action.
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Lloris' lack of Premier League games has courted inevitable controversy. Villas-Boas has tried to calm the storm but the France coach Didier Deschamps has been less inclined to put a polite spin on his discussion of his first-choice goalkeeper's current predicament.
"The problem is that he jumped on the train when it had already left the station and he did not start the season. The English league had started when he signed in August," Deschamps pointed out.
"The really important thing is that a player speaks directly with his coach and if Hugo had done that, maybe he would not have signed for Tottenham."
Those are rash and unhelpful words, but it will be difficult to exclude Lloris for much longer. Villas-Boas learnt a harsh lesson when he initiated the changing of the guard too quickly at Chelsea and perhaps he is overcompensating for those mistakes in his new job. Friedel, though, for all his qualities, is not Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard or their Spurs equivalents.
Villas-Boas' respect for Friedel is to be commended but Lloris is simply the better goalkeeper now. When the latter does take the job, he will keep it. It is time the current waiting game was ended.
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