Spurs shelve style for substance before shooting themselves in the foot again…

Ian Watson
Ange Postecoglou leaves the pitch after Tottenham lose at Wolves.
Ange Postecoglou leaves the pitch after Tottenham lose at Wolves.

Just as it seemed Tottenham were set to show they know more than one way to win, their stand-ins caved in to demonstrate a new way to lose under Ange Postecoglou.

Five days after being cheered from the pitch in the wake of a 4-1 defeat, such was their stoicism in the face of some self-inflicted adversity against Chelsea, they sloped shellshocked from the stage at Molineux having been stunned by Wolves’ late fightback. Having come so close to passing the test of their recovery powers, they f***ed it completely.

For 90 minutes and a few seconds, they hardly aced it, but Postecoglou’s side showed the substance to triumph, even if the style was absent. They cannot be slated for that. From the start and even more so at the finish, this looked more like Antonio Conte’s side than Postecoglou’s. But there was no shame in Spurs’ performance while they led. If anything, Postecoglou looked able to take great encouragement into the international break from the manner in which his depleted side dug in against a Wolves team who seemed to know only how to play through two-thirds.

But when the hosts finally mustered the necessary finesse in attack, the illusion of resolution from Tottenham disappeared. Two sublime goals, almost an an hour and a half after Brennan Johnson’s equally fine opener, leave Postecoglou facing a bleak and barren fortnight.

Before Pablo Sarabia volleyed in an equaliser – deserved, even if Wolves didn’t appear to have the quality to claim it – Spurs’ could reasonably claim to merit the points they ultimately spaffed. With a makeshift core featuring players Postecoglou would willingly have sold through the summer, the visitors defended their slender advantage, even if they never looked likely to extend it.

One of the biggest questions of Spurs centred on what they might miss most; their starting centre-backs, or their most creative player? The answer, resoundingly, was the latter.

Eric Dier and Ben Davies – neither ringers nor to Postecoglou’s taste – defended manfully, in the first half kowtowing to the manager’s demand for a higher line than they might usually be comfortable with before dropping deeper in the second period as Wolves huffed and puffed. They were shielded by a marginally more workmanlike midfield than Postecogou would ideally like, but it seemed a worthy sacrifice while Spurs edged to victory.

The lack of creativity and composure in possession prompted by James Maddison’s absence meant Tottenham never gave themselves a chance of making their advantage easier to manage. Spurs’ string-puller in chief was woefully missed, especially by Son Heung-min, the South Korean all afternoon cut adrift from his team-mates.

That would have mattered little if Johnson’s first Spurs goal remained the only one. Coming after 134 seconds, Johnson began the move in possession at the widest point on the left before finishing it by sprinting across the right-hand post, showcasing the instinct that will make this the first of many for Tottenham.

In terms of quality, that was really all either side could muster until a frantic finale. Up to that point, Wolves were woefully frustrating. Their running from midfield was typically dynamic; their final ball or touch wretched.

It took a late substitute, Sarabia, to inject the requisite quality. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg had kept pace with his Wolves counterparts for a few seconds more than 90 minutes but, with fresh legs, Sarabia surged beyond him and the Spurs centre-backs to control deftly and volley devastatingly beyond Guglielmo Vicario.

That ought to have been Spurs’ prompt to settle. But they embraced the chaos and paid the price.

Wolves players celebrate Pablo Sarabia's goal against Tottenham.

Hojbjerg again was puffing and panting as a quick free-kick found its way to Joao Gomes. His threaded pass behind Spurs’ defence was met – just – by Mario Lemina, the slightest of touches steering the ball beyond Vicario once more.

Wolves will feel entitled to their joy after a fortnight in which they have been stitched up by officials more than anyone else. Spurs, though, stiffed themselves in a defeat more damaging than their last.

Read more: Spurs boss Postecoglou says Wolves capitulation is ‘understandable’ but a ‘hard one to take’