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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Dan Kilpatrick

Tottenham: Problems mounting for Antonio Conte as jaded Spurs lack a Plan B without injured stars

Tottenham’s 100 per cent home record came to an abrupt end with a 2-1 defeat to Newcastle, condemning Antonio Conte’s side to back-to-back League defeats for the first time since February.

Spurs’ were better than in Wednesday’s dismal loss at Manchester United but undone by two lapses, allowing Callum Wilson and Miguel Almiron to establish a 2-0 lead for the visitors before half-time.

Harry Kane pulled a goal back after the interval but Spurs did not have the quality or energy to break down a stubborn Newcastle, who have now joined the mix for a top-four spot after moving two points behind Conte’s side.

Conte had warned before the game that fatigue was staring to catch up with his players during the most relentless of seasons and Spurs’ errors for both Newcastle goals were suggestive of a tired side.

There was controversy about Wilson’s opener but Hugo Lloris went down too easily in a challenge with the forward 25 yards from goal, leaving the goalkeeper on the deck in no man’s land and Wilson with an empty net to aim at.

Spurs had been the better side before the goal, Heung-min Son twice going close and Kane testing Nick Pope, but they lost their focus in the aftermath and Almiron’s brilliant second could have been prevented at three different points.

Lloris’ weak kick was intercepted by the winger, who shrugged off Ryan Sessegnon, skinned Clement Lenglet and finished under the ‘keeper.

Spurs rallied at the start of the second half, Kane stooping for a now-trademark back-post header from a flicked-on corner, but they were guilty of too many heavy touches and loose passes in the search for an equaliser.

There were half-chances but Pope, who was booed for time-wasting by the home crowd, did not have a serious save to make.

Conte’s side have spent most of this season eking results while playing poorly but this pattern never felt entirely sustainable, and they are now starting to suffer for not having found their rhythm yet this term.

Most concerningly for Conte is that his most trusted players looked jaded, and Spurs appear to have few genuine Plan Bs while Dejan Kulusevski and Richarlison are injured. Lucas Moura and Ivan Perisic, his first two subs, could not drag them back into the game.

Spurs have a chance to immediately bounce back in Wednesday’s Champions League clash with Sporting Lisbon but Conte will be increasingly alarmed by their pre-World Cup form now that results have started to match performances.

Skipp deserves more game-time

If there was a positive for Spurs, it came in the display of Oliver Skipp, who caught the eye on his first start since January.

The 22-year-old had big shoes to fill, replacing Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who has arguably been Spurs’ player of the season and ended a run of 32 consecutive starts with what was described as a minor injury.

Skipp has been restricted to brief cameos this season but he showed no signs of rustiness in an energetic and committed 60 minutes.

He brought bite and vibrancy to Spurs midfield, and played positively, constantly looking for forward passes behind and between the Newcastle lines.

With Yves Bissouma anchoring the midfield again, Skipp and the outstanding Rodrigo Bentancur had licence to push forward and there was a nice balance to the Spurs’ midfield, even if a final ball was too often missing.

Hojbjerg is set to be assessed ahead of the visit of Sporting but on this evidence Skipp deserves more serious minutes in future.

Lloris struggles

Spurs’ captain was left incandescent by the decision of referee Jarred Gillett and VAR Stuart Atwell not to disallow Wilson’s goal for a foul, but he could have few complaints.

Lloris rushed out of his area to deal with Fabian Schar’s pass, which had dissected the Spurs defence too easily, and beat Wilson to the ball before colliding with the forward.

Replays suggested the Frenchman went to ground theatrically, and Wilson collected the loose ball and finished with a fine lob.

Goalkeepers are usually offered extra protection in aerial challenges with forwards but if Lloris had been an outfield player, it would have been a very soft foul, given the way he threw himself to the ground.

The Spurs stopper was also at fault for Newcastle’s second, when his lofted kick was intercepted by Almiron.

Lloris has credit in the bank after his heroics at Old Trafford kept the scoreline respectable but this was a bad day at the office for the veteran.

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