West Bromwich (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Mauricio Pochettino saw his Tottenham Hotspur side surrender ground in the race for a Champions League place and then demanded more aggression from his players in their final two Premier League games.
The Spurs manager remained phlegmatic following a dramatic 1-0 defeat at West Bromwich Albion that came with a late, scrambled stoppage-time goal.
But he admitted his side had been missing vital ingredients in attack after they handed West Brom a victory that helped ensure they ended the day still in hope of avoiding relegation after drop rivals Southampton failed to win when conceding a stoppage-time equaliser in a 1-1 draw away to Everton in Saturday’s late kick-off.
“We miss a little bit of aggression with the ball,” said Pochettino, whose side are now a point behind third-placed Liverpool, who play on Sunday.
“Everyone can see the game, we dominated but if you are not clinical in front of goal it’s always open.”
Defeat meant a significant setback to Tottenham’s hopes, not just of claiming a top-three finish that would spare them a Champions League qualifier early next season, but possibly of even claiming a top-four finish.
They ended the day a point behind Liverpool and just five clear of fifth-placed Chelsea, who have a game in hand. That was thanks to a scruffy goal in stoppage time, with Jake Livermore claiming the final touch as he and defender Danny Rose stretched to reach the ball in a frantic scramble.
– ‘In our hands’ –
However, Spurs will continue to have a large say in their own destiny given they face home games in the final week of the season against Newcastle and Leicester — two sides with little to play for.
“Maybe we need to assess why, our performances have dropped a little bit,” admitted Pochettino, whose team were thwarted repeatedly by home goalkeeper Ben Foster, who made smart saves from Harry Kane and Erik Lamela among others.
“But it’s still in our hands so we need to work hard in the next two games but it’s our chance to be in the Champions League next season.
“It’s so important, of course. We’re in a good position – we’re disappointed after the result – but we can still achieve it.”
Aside from Champions League concerns, Pochettino found himself fielding questions about two Belgian defenders.
Toby Alderweireld, whose contract dispute with the club shows few signs of being resolved, made just his second Spurs appearance since February and impressed, although his manager was reticent to comment.
“It’s too difficult for me to focus on one player, but he was good,” said the manager.
Meanwhile Pochettino will now assess the fitness of Jan Vertonghen, who limped off with an ankle injury as he denied suggestions Saturday’s surprise result could help stir his side.
“We are fighting for the top four but I don’t believe this is a wake-up call,” he said.
“After 36 games of the Premier League, if we need someone to say ‘we need to give our best, be professional and play with the right attitude’ we need to go deeper and assess why.”
For Darren Moore’s West Brom, a third victory of his five, unbeaten games in caretaker charge meant another step towards reconnecting with their supporters, irrespective of the eventual outcome of the season.
“We’ve come together and there’s been some pride restored and the feelgood factor within the community and within the supporters,” said Moore.
“I feel from the crowd today that there was an excellent energy in the football club. If it has restored that I’m really happy for the club, that’s all anyone would want so we’re really happy.”