Manager Jose Mourinho said it is “sad” Tottenham had to suffer their shock midweek Europa League exit in order to produce the committed performance that saw them secure the victory at Aston Villa which keeps Spurs in the hunt for a top-four Premier League finish.
They were labelled a “disgrace” by captain Hugo Lloris after the 3-0, last-16 second-leg defeat by Dinamo Zagreb on Thursday that saw Spurs throw away a 2-0 aggregate advantage and left their hopes of qualification for next season’s Champions League pinned on their league placing.
But Carlos Vinicius’ opener and Harry Kane’s second-half spot-kick ensured Tottenham made the necessary winning response to climb to sixth in the standings, three points behind Chelsea in fourth.
“OK, I am really happy with that, but it is sad we need such a bad defeat to have this kind of reaction,” Mourinho told BBC Sport.
“This should not be a reaction, this should be a permanent state of mind, permanent soul in the team. I think that is our next challenge – to have this standard in terms of effort, commitment, sacrifice.
“Independent of results, this has to be always there to dignify our jobs, the people that love us, the club and the fans. I am a bit sad by realising we can have this soul and we haven’t in the last couple of matches.
“I opened my heart as a guy with more than 20 years in football and lots of experiences, I just care that they did it and the next challenge as a group is we do it every match.”
An interchange of slick passes between Lucas Moura and Kane following a poor clearance by Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez allowed Vinicius to put Spurs ahead from close range after 30 minutes.
And Kane avoided a potentially nervous finish to the game for his side, sending Martinez the wrong way with his penalty after being fouled by Matty Cash.
Villa, who are 10th and seven points behind Spurs in the Europa League positions, failed to register a shot until the 58th minute in the continued absence of skipper Jack Grealish – and substitute Anwar el Ghazi’s powerful drive into the side-netting was as close as they came.
Spurs respond to keep top four hopes alive
Following an abject display in the north London derby last weekend, Tottenham’s season sunk to a fresh low in their humiliating Europa League exit, which led to Mourinho once again questioning the attitude and commitment of his players.
The Portuguese, reportedly fighting to keep his job, responded accordingly by naming seven changes which he hoped would bring “positivity” and “fresh minds” at Villa Park, while Gareth Bale once again started on the bench despite the absence of injured forward Son Heung-min.
Claiming the club’s first trophy in 13 years in the League Cup final against Manchester City next month, or securing a top-four league finish, appear the only possible routes by which Mourinho can claim to have brought success this season – and achieving the latter required an immediate response on Sunday.
Having played all 120 minutes on Thursday, Kane was deployed slightly behind Vinicius and was successful in finding space between the Villa lines as Spurs probed for an opening during a cagey start.
The England captain played a key role in Vinicius’ opener, threading the ball neatly through to Moura before the Brazilian teed up his compatriot for his ninth goal in as many starts for Spurs in all competitions.
Moura injected energy and directness into his side’s attacking play, but a defensively-uncertain Spurs struggled to find a much-needed second goal until Cash’s reckless tackle gifted Kane the opportunity to seal the points.
That offered a confidence boost to Mourinho’s side, who ended the game on the front foot and will return after the two-week international break with much still to play for despite an otherwise painful week.
Villa begin to fade in race for Europe
A top-half position heading into April marks significant progress for an Aston Villa side which survived by a single point last season, but following a magnificent start to this campaign their season is threatening to peter out.
Once again sorely missing the creativity and intuition of Grealish in the final third, Villa lacked the necessary penetration to seriously trouble a vulnerable Tottenham back-line despite a much-improved second half display.
Smith’s side have won only one of their past six games in Grealish’s absence with a leg injury, and the manager’s pre-match promise that the midfielder will “definitely” return after the international break on 3 April will offer encouragement his side can improve in their final 10 games.
Ultimately it was two errors which cost the hosts, as Villa never recovered once Moura pounced on Martinez’ poor clearance, while Cash needlessly felled Kane at the byline.
With their hopes of securing an unlikely European place beginning to look faint after a run of four wins in 15 matches since Boxing Day, Grealish’s return simply cannot come soon enough.
“If you make mistakes like we did for their goals and don’t create or show much quality in the final third, you are going to lose games,” Villa boss Smith told BBC Sport.
“They got numbers behind the ball but we got into the box a number of times and either hit the first man or didn’t show the quality needed. That’s what’s probably lacking with us at the moment.”
Kane’s 30th goal involvement of the season – the stats
- Tottenham have won six consecutive Premier League away games against Aston Villa.
- Spurs have won four of their past five league games – as many as in their 15 games beforehand.
- Aston Villa’s four-game winless run is their longest of the season. They have scored just one goal during those games.
- Villa failed to have a single shot in the opening 45 minutes against Spurs. It’s the first time they have failed to do so in a home league game since April 2014.
- Dean Smith’s side have won only 17% of Premier League games in which Jack Grealish has not featured this season, compared to a 50% win rate with him in the team.
- Tottenham’s Harry Kane is the first player to be directly involved in as many as 30 goals in the Premier League this season.
Aston Villa return to action after the international break with a home meeting with Fulham on Saturday, 3 April at 20:00 GMT.
Tottenham are away to struggling Newcastle a day later (14:05).
- 2CashBooked at 74mins
- 18TargettBooked at 90mins
- 25SansonSubstituted forBarkleyat 66′minutes
- 6Douglas Luiz
- 7McGinnBooked at 83mins
- 15TraoréSubstituted forEl Ghaziat 60′minutes
- 17TrézéguetSubstituted forDavisat 79′minutes
- 21El Ghazi
- 27El Mohamady
- 6D Sánchez
- 3ReguilónSubstituted forDaviesat 57′minutes
- 18Lo CelsoBooked at 62minsSubstituted forBergwijnat 66′minutes
- 28NdombeleSubstituted forSissokoat 81′minutes
- 27Lucas Moura
- 45Alves MoraisBooked at 83mins
- Mike Dean
Match ends, Aston Villa 0, Tottenham Hotspur 2.
Second Half ends, Aston Villa 0, Tottenham Hotspur 2.
Corner, Tottenham Hotspur. Conceded by Matthew Cash.
Matt Targett (Aston Villa) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Lucas Moura (Tottenham Hotspur) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Matt Targett (Aston Villa).
Corner, Tottenham Hotspur. Conceded by Tyrone Mings.
Keinan Davis (Aston Villa) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Pierre-Emile Højbjerg (Tottenham Hotspur).
Foul by Douglas Luiz (Aston Villa).
Lucas Moura (Tottenham Hotspur) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt blocked. Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by John McGinn.
Corner, Aston Villa. Conceded by Japhet Tanganga.
Attempt blocked. Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Attempt blocked. Keinan Davis (Aston Villa) left footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Ross Barkley.
Corner, Aston Villa. Conceded by Japhet Tanganga.
Attempt blocked. Ross Barkley (Aston Villa) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Keinan Davis.
John McGinn (Aston Villa) is shown the yellow card.
Carlos Vinícius (Tottenham Hotspur) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Carlos Vinícius (Tottenham Hotspur).