Antonio Conte will be desperate to get back in the dugout after his time away while recovering from surgery. He will have been watching with concern as Tottenham produced their second meek 1-0 away defeat of the week at Wolves.
Tottenham failed to score with 17 shots in their FA Cup defeat to Championship Sheffield United, they followed that up with another 22 futile attempts, allowing their opponents to once again take advantage. On Wednesday the winner came in the 79th minute, on this occasion Adama Traoré waited until the 82nd to fire into the top corner.
The loss makes it three away defeats in a row for Spurs. They have been inconsistent since October and with Milan travelling to London for the second leg of the Champions League on Wednesday, they need to reinvigorate themselves, which will be helped by Conte’s imminent return.
“Antonio will be a massive boost for us from tomorrow [Sunday] to the end of the season,” assistant head coach Cristian Stellini said. “It is important that Antonio is back. We’d want him back with a different result but I think the team showed to Antonio that the team is alive, they want to win, they want to control the game, they want to dominate the game and this is important.”
The visitors were architects of their own downfall, playing again without the energy required to break down an organised defence. Wolves failed to create a single chance in the first half but were still in the game thanks to the inept nature of Tottenham’s attacking play. In the end, the team that had only scored 18 times in 25 matches prior to kick-off were the more dangerous side and when Traoré saw his shot bounce in off the crossbar it was not a surprise. The result will be more frustrating because it was a lost opportunity to create distance between Spurs in fourth and Newcastle a place below following their loss at Manchester City. “It is a lesson we have to learn because when you control the game, you have to kill the game,” Stellini said. “We have to be more aggressive and nasty.”
Wolves kept Harry Kane quiet, while Dejan Kulusevski and Son Heung-min struggled to make an impact against a highly-organised defence, a description that could not be applied to Wolves prior to Julen Lopetegui’s appointment. The Spaniard has won five of his 11 Premier League games in charge.
Lopetegui gave Diego Costa his first start in two months but his striker issues were exacerbated when the former Spain international was carried off on a stretcher in the 28th minute with a knee injury. Costa will be examined on Sunday but if they find it to be serious, it could be the end of the 34-year-old’s Wolves career.
It was a stop-start opening half, culminating in eight minutes of added time due to the amount of injuries suffered. It ended with Pedro Porro’s free-kick whacking the bar, while the second started with Son Heung-min pummelling the woodwork, too. This was as close as Tottenham got.
The defence has not been Wolves’ issue under Lopetegui, the problems have been at the other end of the pitch. Regardless of who is playing, they are not creating the chances that will move them away from the relegation zone. Their first chance arrived in the 51st minute when Raúl Jiménez played the ball across the face of goal, only for it to defeat the outstretched leg of Nélson Semedo. It did, however, give the home fans hope.
All the substitutes played their part for Wolves, with João Moutinho bringing calm to the midfield. It was Jiménez, Costa’s replacement, who made the difference, working smartly inside the box to get away a shot that Fraser Forster could only parry to Traoré who struck first time to move Wolves six points clear of the relegation zone. “We are happy for the three points but I think, to be honest, the match had two very different halves,” Lopetegui said. “In the first half, they overran us, they played with a fantastic rhythm, they deserved more. I think in the second half we improved a lot. We showed another face in the second half and we have the reward of three points.”