Tottenham Hotspur 2 Wolverhampton Wanderers 3
Tottenham’s attempts to regroup from a bout of recent criticism came unstuck as they suffered the kind of defeat they are still vulnerable to.
On this occasion, they could have few complaints, picked off as they were at crucial junctures against a buoyant Wolves side who have won a huge amount of admirers under the guidance of Nuno Santo this season.
For a fleeting spell after Steven Bergwijn put Spurs ahead in 12 minutes you felt this would set a reasonable tone for the hosts. However Tottenham’s defensive frailties were, once more, all too obvious and it appeared that they failed to heed the warnings of Wolves’ famed, clinical counter-insurgencies. Matt Doherty, Diego Jota and Raul Jiminez all netted to nullify the quality of Serge Aurier’s goal which put the north Londoners 2-1 ahead before the interval.
Wolves did weather a storm at the end, for the first time throughout the game, but everything simply appeared too rushed, too ill-thought by the hosts. The absence of Harry Kane remains an irritation, and the jeers at the end by many of the home fans reflected the dissatisfaction.
Spurs chief Jose Mourinho made four changes from the side which appeared to surrender rather tamely at Chelsea last weekend. The 2-1 loss elicited significant criticism from many quarters. Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Tanguy Ndombele were all benched and keeper Paulo Gazzaniga came in for injured Hugo Lloris.
A risky strategy? Perhaps. But hardly untypical of Mourinho, making a statement. And his selection paid off – at least initially.
It was a well constructed goal by Tottenham in what was, essentially, their first proper foray, with Wolves’ Adama Traore firing wide a few minutes earlier.
Pressing forward down the right, Aurier supplied a low cross which was cutely left by Lucas Moura into the path of Dele Alli. The England international’s shot was initially saved well by feet of Wolves’ keeper Rui Patricio, only for the ball to ricochet to Bergwijn who had the simple task of knocking home from six yards.
Undeterred, the visitors, who have surprised many onlookers this season with their counter-attacking verve, industry and Europa League exploits responded with a calmness about their play and the utilization of Traore on the right. Yet the wingers’ enticing cross which found Jota unmarked at the far side of the 18 yard area saw the ball ending up well over.
Still, Santo’s team didn’t have long to wait with a goal which was just as well orchestrated as that from their north London opponents. Defender Doherty ended up being the grateful recipient, drilling home from close range when both Eric Dier and Aurier both failed to clear the danger from jet-paced Ruben Vinagre’s whipped cross.
Also worth noting was the fact that this was a Wolves side, travelling back from Barcelona in midweek, having prevailed over Espanol in Europe – and they were far from intimidated. Traore was all nifty tricks and bursts of energy for long spells and Doherty’s seventh goal of the season was certainly merited, with Tottenham off the pace since going a goal ahead. Too often a clunkiness coloured their efforts to break down the west Midlands outfit.
Alli did attempt an acrobatic pot which was dealt with by Patricio, but it proved to be the precursor to a superb – although arguably fortunate - second goal a minute before the break.
Picking up possession, Aurier cut inside the box and showed Vinagre one way before curling a lovely left foot shot into the far corner of the net. Relief was the prevailing mood inside the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in view of the hosts’ general hitherto intermittent showing.
The effervescent Jota served Spurs early notice at the start of the second half with a flashing volley that flew a yard over Gazzaniga’s bar. Tottenham gradually took more possession and an Alli header looked net bound only for the ball to go past the post, after being a set up by an inviting Ben Davies cross.
From Spurs’ perspective, it was, though, to come at a cost with Wolves levelling dramatically in the 56th minute. Foraging down the right, Jimenez set up Jota via Doherty and, once again, with Mourinho’s men failing to deal with peril at close quarters, the Portuguese midfielder tucked home his 15th goal of the season.
All this Wolves’ energy seemed to psyche out most of the Tottenham players, who appeared stung by the turn of events. Therefore, the third – and decisive strike – came as no surprise: a classic, on-the-break, textbook Wolves goal in 73 minutes.
Jimenez demonstrated that he the coolest operator in this part of north London, despatching a lovely finish after turning inside Japhet Tanganga following a wonderful run and cross field pass by Jota who waltzed past Davinson Sanchez. The latter, along with Dier, were finding the afternoon an especially taxing shift.
You could say that applied to the entire Tottenham side, in fact. Mourinho has questions to answer with the chase for a Champions League place far from a formality right now.
Tottenham Hotspur: Gazzaniga, Sanchez, Davies (Parrott 90), Aurier (Gedson 81), Tanganga (Ndombele 75), Dier, Winks, Alli, Moura, Lo Celso, Bergwijn