Jose Mourinho has demanded his Tottenham Hotspur players maintain the level of desire they showed in bouncing back from a difficult week to win 2-0 at Aston Villa on Sunday.
Spurs threw away a 2-0 first-leg lead to crash out of the Europa League with a 3-0 defeat by Dinamo Zagreb on Thursday, four days on from losing the north London derby 2-1 to Arsenal.
But they rekindled their hopes of a top-four Premier League finish as Carlos Vinicius and Harry Kane were on target at Villa Park.
Mourinho made eight changes in an attempt to summon a response from his side’s collapse in the Croatian capital and got the result he needed, even if the performance still left much to be desired.
Vinicius was partnered alongside Kane in a change to a 4-4-2 formation, with Gareth Bale and Dele Alli both dropped to the bench despite the absence of Son Heung-min through injury.
However, Mourinho said effort and not tactics was the key to change in fortunes for Spurs.
“Good result. Total credit to the players for an incredible attitude, incredible effort,” said Mourinho.
“I think our next challenge is not to play like this as a reaction of an awful performance, but to play like this, with this soul, as a permanent thing. This is not about tactics but about attitude. The players gave everything.”
The manner of defeat to Dinamo and the harsh words of Mourinho and captain Hugo Lloris afterwards sparked speculation over how long the former Chelsea, Real Madrid and Manchester United boss would be given to turn Tottenham’s fortunes around.
Mourinho is expected to be given the chance to end Tottenham’s 13-year wait to win a trophy in the League Cup final against Manchester City on April 25.
And there is still life in Tottenham’s final nine league games of the campaign now as they climb up to sixth and close to within three points of fourth-placed Chelsea.
“In the last couple of games, the attitude dropped below our standards,” said Kane. “(Today) you saw everyone fighting, putting their bodies on the line and that’s what we’ll need to give the top four a push.”
Grealish absence felt
Villa have been a different side without the presence of Jack Grealish due to injury over the past month and once again his invention was missed.
In six games since Grealish picked up a leg injury, Villa have picked up just five points to end their chances of a surprise push for the top four.
“I said to them ‘we can’t wait for Jack to come back’,” said Villa boss Dean Smith. “Everybody knows how good a player he is and not many have taken that chance (in his absence).”
Spurs had barely threatened until one long ball over the top opened up Villa on 29 minutes.
Emiliano Martinez rushed outside his box to clear, but the loose ball fell to Lucas Moura, who exchanged passes with Kane before crossing for Vinicius to tap home his first Premier League goal since joining on loan from Benfica in October.
Kane then lured Matty Cash into an unnecessary lunge inside the box as the ball was rolling harmlessly out for a goal kick 22 minutes from time.
Referee Mike Dean pointed to the spot for a soft penalty, but Kane did not care about the nature of the award as he sent Martinez the wrong way for his 27th goal of another outstanding individual season.