Tottenham appeared to be closing in on Liverpool’s attacking distance at the top of the table. But, as too often, they failed to hold the lead, allowing Romain Saïss to head to the net with four minutes remaining to disallow Tanguy Ndombele’s early goal. The wolves deserved the draw, and José Mourinho was left reflecting on the wisdom of trying to protect a one-goal lead for so long. His team couldn’t do that against Crystal Palace earlier this month.
Tottenham are in the middle of a particularly busy period, this being the eighth of their nine games in December. Although they advanced to the Carabao Cup semi-finals by beating Stoke on Wednesday, the festive season had brought little joy up to this point, successive defeats to Liverpool and Leicester knocking them out of the top four. Their mission at Molineux was to reestablish themselves as title contenders. Mourinho only had to convey the news of West Brom’s draw at Anfield to show that it wasn’t such a far-fetched idea.
The Wolves have had a back-and-forth campaign in which Nuno Espírito Santo tries to refine a new identity, but they have distinguished themselves as conquerors of London clubs, with their only victories in their last nine outings against Crystal Palace, Arsenal and Chelsea. Mourinho’s plan to avoid falling victim to the Midlanders was to deviate from his usual formation to start with a back three and a pair of wings. Nuno used to swear by that setup, but he started here with the 4-2-3-1 system that he has recently adopted.
It was the Tottenham right-back who became a Premier League stalwart with Nuno, as Matt Doherty returned to Molineux for the first time since moving from the club where he served a decade of high-class service. Raúl Jiménez made an even more welcome return, with the Wolves’ Mexican forward able to follow the action from a corporate area for the first time since suffering a skull fracture at Arsenal a month ago. That action couldn’t have started worse for the Wolves, who fell behind in a minute.
Even reaching the 20-second mark seemed like a challenge for the hosts, who were opened almost immediately with a direct pass from behind from Ben Davies. Son Heung-min’s shot was stopped, but when the resulting corner kick reached Davies beyond the back post, the Welshman passed Ndombele, whose shot from 20 meters hit the center of the goal, with Rui Patrício apparently missing. seen by the bodies in front of him.
Now the Wolves had to find a way to undo Mourinho’s defense. At least they had time on their side. They also have Pedro Neto, who showed his threat almost immediately, buzzing down the right and hitting a mocking ball at goal. It was the kind of service Jiménez would have liked, but none of his teammates on the field anticipated it.
Adama Traoré tried a different approach five minutes later, beating three opponents before feeding Danel Podence, who didn’t put enough power into his shot from the edge of the area to upset Hugo Lloris. But the Wolves’ skill and movement ensured the Spurs had to be very vigilant to keep the hosts at bay.
Ndombele was determined to do more than that. When he broke an attack at home in the 21st minute, he advanced 50 yards, brushing off tackles like flimsy garbage before hitting Sergio Reguilón, whose shot, unfortunately, was garbage.
Fábio Silva tried to do better moments later, but lunged at the side net from a tight angle after doing well to reach the end of a low cross from Nélson Semedo. When Davinson Sánchez could only head a cross from Traoré in the 37th minute to Podence near the penalty spot, Lloris had to cunningly duck to stop the forward’s half volley. Those scares aside, the Spurs made their way quite comfortably into halftime with their lead intact.
But they could have lost it 10 seconds into the restart, as the Lobos howled for a penalty as Silva beat Doherty on a Semedo pass and then fell into the box, possibly following a foot contact from the defender. A VAR review found no conclusive evidence of a fault. Four minutes later Silva couldn’t make contact with the ball after a compelling cross from Neto’s baseline.
The Spurs had switched to containment mode, but Ndombele stormed from midfield to force Coady to make a mistake in the 57th minute, with the Wolves captain booked for pulling the Frenchman back to prevent him from escaping with the ball towards goal.
Mourinho replaced Ndombele with Moussa Sissoko to help close the game. They were doing it effectively until Saïss reached a corner before Davies and Kane and headed for the net. Suddenly, the Spurs were forced to hold on for just one point.
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