Suddenly, perhaps illogically, Jose Mourinho’s salvage job is about four months ahead of schedule. He is waging war with his past and it may be a productive process. He beat one of his former players, Nuno Espirito Santo, to end Wolves’ longest undefeated run in the top flight since 1962. Overcome another of his old charges, Frank Lampard, on Sunday and a man who spent two-and-a-half years in the Lowry Hotel would spend Christmas in the top four.
And yet the result gives scant indication of an afternoon to suggest Wolves are equally capable of gatecrashing the Champions League places. Mourinho pilfered the points. The winner came against the run of play, against the balance of possession and chances. It came from a man, in Jan Vertonghen, who was given a torrid time by Wolves’ explosive entertainer Adama Traore. It was fashioned by one Mourinho has marginalised. No sooner had Christian Eriksen come off the bench when he took the corner Vertonghen met with a header from the penalty spot. Mourinho had the best result of his brief reign.
If nothing else, his side showed they have potency. They were battered for swathes of the game and were inches from scoring three goals. The first half was almost a case of counter-attacking at its most clinical. Spurs led through a ferocious strike from Lucas Moura, flying over Rui Patricio’s head and in. The goalkeeper had saved from Heung-Min Son seconds earlier, illustrating the potency of Mourinho’s fast, direct wingers.
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In an uncharacteristic display of ambition, Eric Dier surged into the box, met Dele Alli’s inventive pass and drove a shot against the post. Yet they were isolated incidents. Tottenham spent much of the time on the back foot, penned back and pegged back
Wolves played with the positivity of a team in form. Traore was the roadrunner who knew he could accelerate beyond Vertonghen at will. Diogo Jota was enterprising and excellent on a series of bursts, many of which took him past Serge Aurier. He might have had a sixth goal in three games had Traore shown more control when crossing; instead, after skinning Vertonghen again, he thumped the ball at Jota, sending it flying off the unmarked Portuguese’s shoulder and away from goal.
But Wolves were relentless and pressure told, albeit in an unexpected way. Traore’s rocket of a shot flew past Paulo Gazzaniga. The mercurial winger has two goals this season against the reigning champions. He added one against Champions League finalists. Three Spurs players – Toby Alderweireld, Dier and Harry Kane – were all cautioned for chopping him down.
Kane’s lunge could have produced a winner. Joao Moutinho took the resulting free kick, Romain Saiss met it with a glancing header and Gazzaniga made a brilliant save. Instead the decider came at the other end. Vertonghen’s goal had Mourinho jumping into the arms of his assistant Joao Sacramento as they celebrated a result that was remarkable in more ways than one.