Daily Mail

It’s same old story for spineless Spurs


His gallbladde­r is out but the pain in Antonio Conte’s backside never went away. Evidently there is no easy fix, surgical or otherwise, for the enduring mystery that is Tottenham Hotspur, a club that has had so many false dawns it is a wonder they have not yet strangled their cockerel.

in the context of this strange season, that would apply to the glaringly meek way in which they have just surrendere­d the rhythm that had been building with those wins over Chelsea and West Ham.

To lose to sheffield United in the FA Cup in midweek was a stupefying waste of an opportunit­y, and to follow it with such a poor defeat at Wolves was to open a trapdoor to fifth and sixth in the league.

suddenly, the landscape Conte will survey, having returned from a month of sick leave, is of a campaign in close proximity to a wasteland. should Tottenham fail to overturn a 1-0 deficit against AC Milan in the Champions

League on Wednesday, then their season will rest on how well they handle the pressure from Newcastle and Liverpool. Unfortunat­ely, there is a word for how spurs have historical­ly processed those situations.

That question of mentality has returned in the past week, if indeed it went away. Assistant manager Cristian stellini tapped into the recurring theme after the Cup exit by alluding to the squad’s lack of hunger for success, though he was reluctant to go back to that place after a Wolves loss that supported different strands of the same argument.

And yet it was abundantly obvious to those present on saturday that Tottenham never should have lost, as they so dominated the first half. What was so alarming was how their confidence dissipated in the face of spirited opposition. The front-foot assault gave way dramatical­ly to a cowering on the edge of their own area, and whereas Wolves had been able to withstand pressure, Tottenham ultimately caved when the boot was on Adama Traore’s foot.

There was of course more to it than that. The game was largely changed by Julen Lopetegui’s substituti­ons — all five by the 68th minute, with Traore, Raul Jimenez and Joao Moutinho becoming the most influentia­l players — but Tottenham were deeply complicit in their downfall. They never found a meaningful supply route to Harry Kane and the many chances they did create — 22 of them — were squandered because, in stellini’s words, they were not ‘nasty’ enough.

in Conte’s favour is a soft run of fixtures. if the Milan tie can be turned, then Tottenham face Nottingham Forest, southampto­n, Everton, Brighton and Bournemout­h in succession, before a defining run against Newcastle, Manchester United and Liverpool in April. The schedule looks like a gift, but that relies on them becoming coherent again, especially if the likelihood of Conte’s summer departure becomes a distractio­n.

For the time being, his return is being seen as a tonic, with Ben Davies saying: ‘it’s been a while now but we have a huge game on Wednesday and it is very important he is with us.’

Wolves are shuffling ever further away from relegation, which demonstrat­es the impact of Lopetegui. The only sour note of his weekend was the seemingly serious knee injury that could bring an end to Diego Costa’s underwhelm­ing spell. He had a scan yesterday to assess if there was ligament damage. WOLVERHAMP­TON WANDERERS (4-2-3-1): Sa 7; Semedo 6.5, Dawson 7, Kilman 7, Jonny 6.5; Neves 7.5, Lemina 6 (Traore 46min, 7); Sarabia 6.5

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 ?? PA ?? Winner: Adam Traore (right) is congratula­ted by Pedro Neto
PA Winner: Adam Traore (right) is congratula­ted by Pedro Neto

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