Tottenham manager Antonio Conte said the «situation is not simple» at the club after his much-changed side were embarrassed by NS Mura to leave their Europa Conference League last-16 hopes hanging by a thread.
The Italian opted not to talk to his players after the defeat in Slovenia, where Amadej Marosa’s injury-time goal sealed the unlikely victory after Harry Kane looked to have salvaged a point for 10-man Spurs.
Kane chipped in after Tommy Horvat opened the scoring and Ryan Sessegnon’s red card reduced woeful Spurs’ numbers. But Marosa exposed some slack late defending by Davinson Sanchez to stun the Premier League team.
Former Tottenham midfielder Jermaine Jenas told BT Sport the defeat was «shocking and embarrassing», while ex-Spurs manager Glenn Hoddle added the team’s first-half performance was «dreadful».
«I did not like what happened tonight,» said Conte. «I must be honest and tell you that after three-and-a-half weeks, I am starting to understand the situation.
«I am happy to stay here but at the same time I must be honest and tell you we need to work a lot to improve the quality of the squad. We are Tottenham and in this moment there is an important gap [to the top teams in England].
«If someone thinks that a new coach arrives and Conte won in the past and then I am a magician… But the only magic I can do is to work. To bring work and work to improve, to bring my methods, my ideas of football. But we have to understand that we need time.
«It is not simple because, in this moment for sure, the level of Tottenham is not so high.
«The situation now is starting to be very clear in my mind. I like to win and I play to win in every competition. This must be the same for my players.
«This road could be one metre or 100m. I am not scared, I am ready to go and do this path. But at the same time I want to be very honest – we have to work a lot and improve in many, many aspects.
«The club is outstanding outside – to create a stadium – but now we start from behind. I have found players that want to work and have great commitment, but sometimes it is not enough.
«We need time, but we have to do better in everything, everything, everything.»
Asked about what he had said to his players after the defeat, the former Italy boss added: «Usually I prefer to not speak to them after the game, especially when the game is not good because you are too involved emotionally. We will do it tomorrow.»
Defeat means second place in Group G is the best Spurs can hope to achieve. In their final group game, they host unbeaten Rennes, who are already guaranteed top spot courtesy of Thursday’s draw with Vitesse Arnhem.
The Dutch side are level on points with Conte’s side and host Mura in their final match. Both games take place on 9 December.
Finishing second in the group would mean a two-legged play-off for Spurs to reach the last 16, with both games being played in February.
Conte’s second string flunk the test
If Spurs’ new boss was under any illusion about the size of the task he has on his hands in trying to restore the club’s fortunes, Thursday laid it bare.
They still have a competitive first-choice XI, but on this evidence those looking to break into it are woefully short of the quality needed.
Tanguy Ndombele failed to get any kind of grip on midfield, the defence looked vulnerable even against Mura’s modest frontline and Dele Alli floated tamely through the contest before being replaced in the 54th minute.
Kane was one of two players to keep their starting place from Sunday’s win over Leeds and gave a glimpse of that famed predatory instinct with his well-taken chipped equaliser. But for the rest of the time he was a lumbering shell of his former self, full of poor touches and fluffed shots.
It could be argued that Sessegnon was seeking to show eagerness in his first start since late August, but it was foolish to lunge in to earn a second booking on the half hour after he had already seen yellow for hauling a man back earlier in the first half.
The introduction of Son Heung-min, Lucas Moura and Ben Davies early in the second half injected more purpose and threat and it was they who helped build up the momentum for the leveller.
But in pushing for a late winner that would have ensured at least a play-off spot, they over-committed, leaving room for Mura to break and Marosa found the net via a deflected shot.
They will get another chance to continue this European campaign in two weeks’ time. But how many more chances some of these Spurs players will get under Conte remains to be seen.
- 30GorencBooked at 22mins
- 13KaramarkoBooked at 53mins
- 14LorbekBooked at 83mins
- 7KozarBooked at 35minsSubstituted forOuroat 62′minutes
- 23SturmBooked at 64minsSubstituted forLotricat 78′minutes
- 10HorvatSubstituted forCipotat 87′minutes
- 19MulahusejnovicBooked at 27minsSubstituted forMarosaat 62′minutesBooked at 89mins
- 14RodonSubstituted forDierat 54′minutes
- 6D Sánchez
- 2DohertySubstituted forDaviesat 53′minutes
- 28NdombeleSubstituted forHøjbjergat 76′minutes
- 19R SessegnonBooked at 31mins
- 11GilSubstituted forLucas Mouraat 54′minutes
- 20AlliBooked at 53minsSubstituted forSon Heung-Minat 54′minutes
- 7Son Heung-Min
- 12Leite de Souza Junior
- 27Lucas Moura
- António Nobre
Match ends, NS Mura 2, Tottenham Hotspur 1.
Second Half ends, NS Mura 2, Tottenham Hotspur 1.
Goal! NS Mura 2, Tottenham Hotspur 1. Amadej Marosa (NS Mura) left footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom right corner. Assisted by Kai Cipot.
Attempt missed. Japhet Tanganga (Tottenham Hotspur) header from the centre of the box is too high. Assisted by Son Heung-Min following a set piece situation.
Lucas Moura (Tottenham Hotspur) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Ziga Kous (NS Mura).
Foul by Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur).
Amadej Marosa (NS Mura) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Amadej Marosa (NS Mura) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Attempt missed. Lucas Moura (Tottenham Hotspur) right footed shot from outside the box is too high. Assisted by Pierre-Emile Højbjerg.
Substitution, NS Mura. Kai Cipot replaces Tomi Horvat.
Attempt missed. Oliver Skipp (Tottenham Hotspur) right footed shot from more than 35 yards misses to the right.
Oliver Skipp (Tottenham Hotspur) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Amadej Marosa (NS Mura).
Attempt missed. Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur) header from very close range is too high. Assisted by Eric Dier with a headed pass following a corner.
Corner, Tottenham Hotspur. Conceded by Marin Karamarko.
Attempt blocked. Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur) right footed shot from the left side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Ben Davies.
Nick Lorbek (NS Mura) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Lucas Moura (Tottenham Hotspur) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Nick Lorbek (NS Mura).