Gary O’Neil held his emotions for a millisecond, glanced towards the fourth official, Thomas Bramall, and then let himself go, haring along the touchline, punching the air as he went. Given the season Wolves have had when it comes to VAR decisions, who could really blame him?
This time he need not fret for nobody was going to tell him Mario Lemina’s winner, scored beyond the initial six minutes of second-half stoppage time, would not stand. All the while Ange Postecoglou, hands in the pockets of his blue woollen trenchcoat, quietly stewed.
Postecoglou laments Tottenham ‘running out of steam’ in Wolves lossRead more
Wolves would have been forgiven for thinking they peaked moments earlier, when the substitute Pablo Sarabia – who entered on 87 minutes and set up Lemina for the winner with a deft pass – volleyed in after latching on to Matheus Cunha’s wedged pass. Sarabia’s strike was magical; he drove into the box and caught Cunha’s pass with a sumptuous first touch, juggling the ball off the instep of his right boot before dispatching a left-foot volley past Guglielmo Vicario at the near post with his next.
That strike had Molineux purring but it was Lemina’s, which stemmed from a quick free-kick on halfway, that was the trigger for O’Neil to let loose à la José Mourinho. “I had loads of energy and couldn’t stand still,” he said. “I don’t know what happened, really. I had to run somewhere and we’re not allowed on the pitch so [running] down the side of the pitch was one of my last options.”
For so long it seemed Tottenham would smuggle three points out of here and end a difficult week on a high. Without the injured James Maddison and Micky van de Ven, and the suspended pair of Cristian Romero and Destiny Udogie, this was arguably Postecoglou’s toughest assignment yet and until Sarabia struck in added time, it seemed one they would pass, even if not exactly with flying colours. They failed to tame a relentless and hungry Wolves side after Brennan Johnson’s first Spurs goal with two minutes and 11 seconds on the clock.
Ordinarily, Wolves would have been staring down the barrel of a jarring defeat, with 17 attempts to Spurs’ six . Until Sarabia’s strike, both teams had only two on target. Wolves passed up several chances, the best falling to Hwang Hee-chan. Until a late effort by the substitute Giovani Lo Celso, Spurs’ only shot on José Sá’s goal ended up in the back of the Wolves net, Johnson beating Nélson Semedo at the back post to convert Pedro Porro’s low cross. Dejan Kulusevski’s nonchalant flick, to free the overlapping Porro, was the catalyst.
Mario Lemina scores the winner for Wolves. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian
O’Neil spent much of this game bouncing on the edge of his technical area in unbridled frustration. Hwang’s chance 10 minutes into the second half, which arrived after João Gomes’s shot pinballed towards him via a heavy deflection off Ben Davies, was golden from a Wolves perspective but there were others, too.
O’Neil arched his back and looked to the skies after the busy Cunha ran into traffic and a few minutes later he sent a wayward shot wide after a neat give-and-go with the wing-back Rayan Aït-Nouri. At the end of the first half Spurs had to withstand a flurry of Wolves set pieces and towards the end of the second the 6ft 7in Wolves substitute Sasa Kalajdzic also sent a header off target.
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A foul on Pierre-Emile Højbjerg – one of those four changes from the defeat to Chelsea on Monday, when they finished with nine men – with three minutes of normal time to play provided Spurs some welcome respite. They carved out another chance when Lo Celso forced a save from Sá after Kulusevski chopped inside Craig Dawson, who was again outstanding in the Wolves defence.
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Spurs, presumably, thought they had done enough but there arrived another kind of spectacular capitulation. “I would have been very proud of the group even if somehow that game finished 1-0 to Tottenham,” O’Neil said. “It would have been a bit of a hard-luck story but I would have still been proud about what the group produced. It is probably the proudest I’ve been as a coach.”