Wolves leapfrog sloppy Spurs to add to Antonio Conte’s woe

The boos that had already rung out around the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium at half-time were only slightly amplified come the final whistle for one simple, damning, reason. Having left for home, a large portion of the crowd had already silently delivered their judgment on a performance that had not just lacked quality, but also confidence and character.

hey had seen Wolves surge into a 2-0 lead inside 18 minutes and, for all the sporadic signs of a reaction by Tottenham, the predominant sense over the ensuing 72 minutes was of inevitability.

It has been one step forward and two back throughout much of Antonio Conte’s tenure already as Spurs manager but, after a third straight Premier League defeat, the inquest will be as much about the new manager’s powers of motivation as the obvious deficiencies in the squad.

Conte has not personally lost three league matches in a row since he was at Atalanta some 13 years, six clubs and five league titles ago. His post-match assessment again centred on the need for patience and there are problems right now in multiple directions.

Wolves fans brutally chanted “Harry Kane, he wants to f*** off” at the England captain and, alongside the defiant chants of “Y** army” by the Spurs fans – despite again being asked to refrain from using the Y-word – there was also audible discontent about the club’s chairman Daniel Levy.

The one positive is that Spurs do still have the games in hand to climb back into the top four but, with Wolves having now leapfrogged them to seventh in the Premier League table, Bruno Lage’s side currently look better equipped to exploit the inconsistency of Manchester United and Arsenal.

“I think we controlled the game and we played with character,” said Lage who, eremains steadfast in stressing the ‘one game at a time’ mantra. “Champions League? If, if, if, if – continue to work hard, one day at a time,” he added.

After losing to Southampton in a frantic and disjointed finale on Wednesday, Tottenham resumed pretty much where they had left off.

Conte had dropped Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg from his midfield but there was still a lack of fluency and, even worse, large pockets of defensive space.

Ruben Neves soon drifted into a dangerous area on the edge of their penalty area and, while his powerful shot from distance had only partially threatened Hugo Lloris’ goal, the Tottenham captain could only parry.

Leander Dendoncker followed up with a bouncing shot that Lloris tried to punch clear but his execution was weak and it reached Raul Jimenez who, having expertly controlled the ball with his chest, volleyed Wolves into the lead.

Son Heung-min was comfortably Tottenham’s most creative attacking player but, having been released by Rodrigo Bentancur and cutting skilfully back inside, dragged his shot straight at Wolves goalkeeper Jose Sa.

Wolves always looked more incisive when they did push forward – as much a consequence of Tottenham’s defensive difficulties as their own attacking prowess – and Lloris was again partially at fault for the second.

His sliced pass had placed Ben Davies in difficulty and an attempted clearance fell at the feet Daniel Podence. The subsequent shot was blocked by Davinson Sanchez but the ball cannoned back off Bentancur and into the post.

Dendoncker then reacted fastest to the sudden game of pinball and calmly followed up to finish past Lloris. Conte reacted to what had been a torrid opening by removing left wing-back Ryan Sessegnon on 28 minutes and reorganising his formation to 4-2-3-1.

The applause for Sessegnon suggested that he was not being held solely to blame, but it was still a wholly forgettable moment for the 21-year-old. His replacement, Dejan Kulusevski, was pushed up into a central position behind Kane.

Spurs improved but, with Wolves again impressive defensively, chances were evenly shared. Podence had prompted an excellent one-handed save by Lloris while Harry Kane, with a header and then an angled left-footed effort, forced further saves of Sa.

Tottenham did pin Wolves back during the final 20 minutes but were never closer than when Harry Winks’ powerful deflected shot got past Sa but rebounded off his post. 

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2021]

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