Monday 23 September 2019

Ravenous Wolves feast on Tottenham title challenge

Tottenham 1 Wolves 3

Conor Coady and Rui Patricio celebrate victory over Tottenham Hotspur yesterday. Photo: Jordan Mansfield/Getty
Conor Coady and Rui Patricio celebrate victory over Tottenham Hotspur yesterday. Photo: Jordan Mansfield/Getty

Sam Dean

No team has done more damage to the Premier League "Big Six" than Wolves, and no performance has underlined their giant-killing credentials as dramatically and spectacularly as this. Nuno Espirito Santo's swaggering side swept into Wembley and landed a major blow on the nose of Tottenham Hotspur just as Mauricio Pochettino's side looked to have emerged as serious contenders for the title.

A run of free-flowing, thrilling victories has juddered to an unexpected end in north London, where Spurs looked to be cruising towards another routine win at half-time. In the lead thanks to one of the finest goals of Harry Kane's career, scored less than 24 hours after he was awarded an MBE, Spurs were seemingly on the brink of a sixth consecutive victory until Wolves produced a turnaround that left them reeling.

Helder Costa of Wolverhampton celebrates scoring their 3rd goal. Photo: Marc Atkins/Getty Images
Helder Costa of Wolverhampton celebrates scoring their 3rd goal. Photo: Marc Atkins/Getty Images

It was not just the goals for Wolves - scored by Willy Boly, Raul Jimenez and Helder Costa - but the nature of their second-half performance. Nuno's side did to Spurs what Spurs have done to so many teams in these last few years. Wolves squeezed high, worked their opponents out and then sliced them apart with precision and speed.

"We want four," pleaded the away fans at the end, when the magnitude of this result was just beginning to sink in. Wolves have taken points off Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal this season, and they have beaten both Chelsea and Spurs. Of the 'Big Six' sides, only Liverpool have emerged unscathed from a meeting with the promoted team who look so at home in the top flight.

The result was made all the more remarkable by the total control of Spurs in the first half. They deserved their lead, and could easily have been three or four goals to the good by the break. "I think maybe it was easier than we expected to dominate the game," said Pochettino.

"They played so deep, chasing us, and we didn't concede one chance. But in the second half we started to feel maybe the game was over, and when you feel the game is over you start to decide the wrong way, start to play too many long balls. We played more with the heart rather than with the head, and we started to spend a lot of energy."

Nuno Espirito Santo, Manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers celebrates following his sides victory. Photo: Marc Atkins/Getty Images
Nuno Espirito Santo, Manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers celebrates following his sides victory. Photo: Marc Atkins/Getty Images

The inevitable criticism will now be directed their way. Just a few days after they appeared to announce themselves as title contenders, having clocked their best ever points tally at this stage of a season, Spurs were undermined by frailties they looked to have consigned to the past. "I don't care what the people say," added Pochettino. "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."

It was indicative of the away side's quality in the second half that there was no suggestion they might retreat and look to claim a point after Boly had headed a powerful equaliser with less than 20 minutes remaining. "At the beginning of the game I would have accepted a draw," Nuno said. "Tottenham had fantastic momentum and this was a big challenge. But when we came back level we felt the game and the spaces were there for us. I felt we could keep going."

Those spaces were certainly not there in the opening exchanges, when Spurs bombarded Rui Patricio in the Wolves goal. Son Heung-Min, Christian Eriksen and Kieran Trippier had all had powerful efforts from range before Kane cut back onto his left foot and, from at least 20 yards, cannoned the ball into Patricio's top corner.

Son nearly added a second shortly afterwards when he blasted another long-range strike narrowly wide. The South Korean was buzzing, and was just inches away from latching onto a sensational pass from Eriksen as Spurs continued to dominate.

Wolves lacked a threat, and were reliant on the recklessly fast Adama Traore to move them up the pitch until they progressed higher after the break. It was only then, as Spurs looked increasingly jaded, that Wolves began to find their feet.

Boly's header from a corner started the comeback, which was helped by the arrival from the bench of the brilliant Joao Moutinho. On the touchline, Nuno bounded into the outstretched arms of his coaching staff, roaring in celebration, while Pochettino could only sink back in his chair.

Now it was Wolves who looked the superior side, first to every ball against a suddenly deflated Spurs, whose demise was best summarised by the contrasting halves produced by Kane. Such was the England captain's desperation after the break, as Wolves tightened their grip, that he was even shown a yellow card for diving.

Jimenez struck the second on the counter, sliding his shot between Toby Alderweireld's legs and into the corner. And then Wolves pounced again when Matt Doherty slipped the ball into Costa, who was simply too fast to catch before he bent a composed finish into the bottom corner to complete the turnaround.

Telegraph

Telegraph.co.uk

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