Wednesday marks a year since Manchester United sacked Jose Mourinho. If it is a moot point if it will be a happy anniversary for them. It should be for him. Mourinho’s finest victory since United defeated Juventus in Turin was both fortunate and hugely auspicious.
There was a symbolic significance to the scorer of the winner. Jan Vertonghen was tormented by Adama Traore, unable to keep up with the resident sprinter in the Wolves ranks. Yet with Wolves’ goalscorer off the pitch, the Belgian headed in an injury-time decider, emerging unmarked to meet Christian Eriksen’s corner. Troubled but triumphant, Tottenham had a fourth win in five league games under Mourinho. “Three incredible points,” he reflected. Spurs were 12 points off the top four when he was appointed. Now the gap is just three and they could leapfrog Chelsea in his reunion with his former club on Sunday.
A drenched Mourinho leapt into the arms of his assistant Joao Sacramento on the final whistle. His had been a painful vigil on the edge of his technical area. The Molineux faithful compared him unfavourably with Nuno Espirito Santo, his reserve goalkeeper at Porto, and his team looked the lesser side. Yet they somehow inflicted Wolves’ first league defeat for three months, ending their longest unbeaten run at this level since 1962. It was a triumph of resolve and resilience, if nothing else.
“This match is a perfect example of a match only a team can win and we won it as a team,” said Mourinho. “I don’t have stats but they were super dominant in corners and [attacking] free kicks and then we had a corner and we won the game. Why? Because we coped so well with defensive set pieces and a couple of weeks ago we were conceding goals every game from set pieces.”
Tottenham had begun the brighter. Lucas Moura rifled them ahead with a strike of such ferocity that it flew in over Rui Patricio’s head and yet it felt harsh to find fault with the goalkeeper. It was his third goal of Mourinho’s brief reign. The Brazilian has been a beneficiary of the change in management and another, Eric Dier, almost doubled the lead when he latched on to Dele Alli’s scooped pass and drilled a half-volley against the foot of the post. “When I saw Dier hit the post I had the feeling that if we don’t score then we are going to suffer,” said Mourinho. “And we did.”
And yet even before then Wolves were the better side. Their performance belied their workload; despite 31 games, they were vibrant. Raul Jimenez, who angled efforts past either post and drew a save from Paulo Gazzaniga, almost scored. Diogo Jota skipped past Serge Aurier at will. Traore was extraordinary. “Jota and Traore are unstoppable,” Mourinho said. “They are trains.”
In one sense, however, Traore was stoppable. Toby Alderweireld, Dier and Harry Kane halted him illegally and were each were booked, taking the tally of players cautioned for fouling the flyer to 24 in 26 games. “He’s just too good for you,” chorused the Molineux faithful, and they had a point. “A talent like Adama is hard to defend [against],” said Nuno. “They should punish the tackles and protect the players.”
Perhaps there was a tactical element to Spurs sharing the fouls around and avoiding a red card, but the surprise was that it was not Traore’s high-speed dribbling that yielded the leveller but an unstoppable shot, unleashed from 25 yards. There could have been a winner for them, Gazzaniga flying to claw away Romain Saiss’ header. “Magic hands,” said Mourinho. For now, at least, he also has a magic touch.