Bullish Jose Mourinho was keen to deflect the deficiencies across Tottenham Hotspur after a 3-2 defeat at home to Wolves. It was, he claimed, a match his side did not deserve to lose, despite a clear lack of aggression by the hosts.
The Spurs chief would not concede that two successive losses have impeded progress towards momentum and a tilt at a Champions League place. Whether or not Tottenham fans are convinced by this latest micro act of defiance and the supposed unfairness besetting their team right now is another question.
Of course, the continued absence of Harry Kane for the next few weeks is tough for the manager and the rest of the squad. Yet Wolves, by common consent, were well worthy of the three points, with well-taken goals by Diogo Jota, Matt Doherty and Raul Jimenez, with Spurs’ offerings from Steven Bergwijn and Serge Aurier.
Mourinho still appears ready with convenient excuses for a side with a tangible soft centre – exposed easily by their noted counter attacking exponents in old gold. Spurs’ inattention and lack of pace defensively cost them dearly.
The significance of all this has not gone unnoticed. Wolves not only demonstrated a calculating and attractive efficiency in north London but the respective teams have now swapped places as the chase for a Champions League slot begins to really intensify.
Spurs now lie seventh, with 40 points from 28 games, two points behind man-of-the-people Nuno Santos’ vibrant team, who have won so many admirers of late.
Moreover, Sheffield United are also level with Mourinho’s side, with a game in hand. Therefore the Portuguese - outfoxed today by compatriot Santos - has to look over his shoulder as well as examining the mentality and shape of his own squad, especially with an FA Cup tie at home to Norwich City on Wednesday. Another outlet for silverware, to potentially concentrate the mind of these players who are, unquestionably, vulnerable right now.
“I don’t think so,” Mourinho insisted when asked if Wolves’ win was a fair reflection of events. “It was a very good game with two teams trying to win and not happy with a draw. They are what we know they are. Incredible, fast and strong on the counter attack. We are a different team. Obviously without strikers we try solutions.
“We managed to score goals and had opportunities but I don’t have data with me – we had, I think more control than them. The result is unfair for us.”
Trying to operate minus injured Kane, while an obvious hindrance, was not an issue Mourinho wanted to be drawn upon, although he admits there is an issue with Spurs’ ongoing mood. The north Londoners also missed, crucially, Heung-Min Son, their personal force against opponents full of similar drive.
“I prefer to focus on this game today rather than the players who are missing,” Mourinho added. “They have incredible players on the counter attack. We were punished not just today on the second and third goal but for quite a long time because we don’t have that aggression. We are too nice and that was the only thing that made the difference to the game.
“They were in trouble at times but we struggled to cope with some of their individual qualities.
“I said this week we have to keep close (to the Champions League) to the moment we have our power back. It’s frustration not just for me but the players. We have recovered 11 points difference but everything has changed for us.
“We have to keep fighting like today, I cannot complain about their fighting but not the psychological character which can be hard to change,” Mourinho continued, while also, oddly, praising stand in defender Erik Dier who was less than a commanding presence.
This was, meanwhile, Wolves’ 46th game of the season since starting their Europa League campaign in July – a competition they remain in, having qualified for the last 16 in midweek - and Santos spoke modestly of the collective unit at his disposal.
“Every time we come to London there are tough games,” said the Portuguese. “I am pleased with the performance. The boys were good this afternoon, especially after going a goal down and not starting the game very well.”