You could almost hear the sniggering emanating all the way from the Fulham Road to the Angel Islington. That nascent Spurs title challenge? It peaked on Boxing Day but didn’t even make it to New Year’s Eve. How their London rivals, those teams trailing them in the Premier League but which have won actual titles and cups in recent years, will delight in that.
Typical Tottenham. Throw in a whiff of expectation and suddenly they crumble. That’s how it will seem. And even if it isn’t really like that, Mauricio Pochettino’s voice is unlikely to be heard above the scoffing. It is true that they had this game more or less under control, though Wolves were much better in the second half and pressing their opponents.
And it is undeniable that Tottenham imploded once they conceded. They fell apart, conceding space and control of the game. You can analyse that rationally: the introduction of Joao Moutinho on 68 minutes flummoxed them and the physicality of the Christmas period left them devoid of energy. But emotionally it looks as though they can’t cope.
Yet, the evidence of their Champions League comebacks and their ability to sustain top-four status even when their resources are well short of five of their immediate rivals does not suggest a mental fragility. It implies that they consistently punch above their weight. So, maybe we are simply asking too much of them?
‘I don’t care about what the people say,’ said Pochettino when reminded of exactly what will be said after this defeat. ‘I cannot control what happens around us. If you see my comments, it’s about being humble, about talking with respect about the opposition and the competition and the other teams. We know very well if you are not 100 per cent in every single game in the Premier League, it can happen. It’s not enough to play 60, 70 minutes. You need to play 95 minutes your best.
‘Today, we dropped our energy and our focus a little bit in the last 20 minutes and we conceded three goals. That can happen. It can happen to us, it can happen to Wolves, to Liverpool, to Manchester City, that’s why it’s so tough to win the Premier League because you need to be consistent. It’s a clear example that if you are not consistent enough, with not only good quality during the game, but the right energy, that it’s difficult to compete for these things.
‘We missed that freshness to kill the game. With Everton or Bournemouth, we killed the games, and then we managed properly the game. Today, with 1-0, I think the moment we concede the first goal, the team was down, they started to feel the time [of year], the fixtures and it was difficult to find the energy to win the game.’ They came into this game surrounded by extraordinary optimism, after their eleven goals in two games. ‘Tottenham is in a fantastic moment so we knew the task ahead of us,’ said Nuno Espirito Santo. ‘But when we achieved the draw, everybody felt that we could keep on going because the spaces were there. It’s important to be brave in these kind of situations.’
And they did show the requisite courage. At the end, Nuno danced a daft jig in front of the travelling fans. Only a few of those will have watched their team here previously. Some will have been here 30 years ago for the Sherpa van Trophy win. That speaks of how far they have travelled, from the old division four.
Others might have witnessed the 1980 League Cup win. That was perhaps the last time Wolves mixed it with the elite, beating European Champions Nottingham Forest.
Tottenham had looked good for their 1-0 lead. It came on 22 minutes when Ivan Cavalero’s touch played the ball directly into the path of Heung-Min Son. The Portguese was impeded in his attempt to recover by a smart Harry Winks block. Yet he had little hope, with Son having played in Harry Kane.
The England striker was running freely, cut neatly inside Boly and hit a stunning strike into the top corner from 25 yards. It was a fitting marker of the MBE that had been announced that morning; the yellow card he received for diving on 81 minutes was a little less so. Good though Kane’s strike was, it probably wasn’t the most exquisite moment of the first half. Christian Eriksen’s delightful chipped pass for Son on 30 minutes took that title. The Dane’s beautiful curling striker on 20 minutes, wonderfully tipped over by Patricio also ran Kane close. But though Tottenham did look in control, Wolves also continued to take the game to Spurs.
The key to turning the game came on 68 minutes: Moutinho at 32 may not be made for the traditional English Christmas but he remains a wonderful player. ‘It’s not only about the starting eleven,’ said Nuno. ‘It’s how you prepare the whole game. Fresh legs change a lot of things in football.’
On 72 minutes Moutinho’s corner pretty much landed the ball on the head of Willy Boly, whose leap above his peers was something to behold. Hugo Lloris got a hand to the header but the power on it meant it was unstoppable.
On 84 minutes it was his cross-field ball to Cavaleiro which opened up Spurs and allowed him to play in Raul Jimenez, whose strike went through the legs of Toby Alderweireld and fooled Lloris.
The denouement came when an over-eager Kieran Trippier lost the ball on 87 minutes, Wolves broke through Ruben Neves and Matt Doherty played in Helder Costa, who sprinted away from Winks and lifted the ball over Lloris for a famous victory. It is certainly a notch up from the Sherpa Van Trophy.