“This is truly disgusting”We can’t accept this mediocrity… Sell him out,He’s addicted to errors and needs to be punished

Ange Postecoglou shook his head repeatedly, then added a wry smile. “He’s a naughty naughty boy,” he said without saying it. He knew Dejan Kulusevski had pulled at Danny Welbeck’s shirt and he knew Brighton & Hove Albion should have a penalty. It did not matter that VAR had slowed down the incident to look even more like a penalty than it was.

But the officials played with their technology anyway and, once they had come to the same conclusion as everyone else, Joao Pedro converted his spot-kick. And then Tottenham were down 2-0 after 23 minutes. “It was obviously clear and obvious because it only took him three minutes to see it on the screen,” Postecoglou said afterwards. “VAR picked up everything today except the one tackle which nearly cost me another player.”

This match, this freewheeling spectacle between two footloose teams, was never going to end 0-0. Even with the injuries that have ravaged both squads. Even as Spurs deployed a back line made up entirely of full-backs.

But this was the first time in 13 games that Spurs had not scored the opening goal. And this was one of those games in which a losing manager simply has to wonder at the longevity of James Milner. It is hard to be bitter when watching a man who will turn 38 on Thursday win midfield challenges and set up goals for teammates who were not even born when he made his English Premier League debut.

At 18, opening goalscorer Jack Hinshelwood was three years from being born when a 16-year-old Milner came off the bench for Leeds in 2002. Watching the pair team up made no sense, but at least Brighton made more sense than Tottenham on this day. Postecoglou’s side were off the pace for long periods and 4-0 down with 80 minutes played and had fashioned only one shot on target to Brighton’s nine.

Richarlison was offside more than he was on. That was in the second half – the Brazilian was not even in a good enough position to be called offside in the first. On the contrary, enter Pervis Estupinan, the Brighton substitute introduced at half-time who whittled a short Milner corner into gold and delivered it from long range into the net. The 63rd-minute goal was a thing of beauty that put Roberto De Zerbi’s outfit up 3-0.

A dejected Son Heung-min and Ange Postecoglou leave the turf after Spurs’ heavy loss to Brighton.
A dejected Son Heung-min and Ange Postecoglou leave the turf after Spurs’ heavy loss to Brighton.CREDIT: AP

This sort of deficit is a death sentence for most teams, a sign that ‘this game is gone, may as well conserve energy for the next’. But Postecoglou’s Tottenham do not operate this way. They do not confirm their crucifixion, then wait to be told “out of the door, line on the left, one cross each”.

“Ah, no,” they say. “Freedom for me.” And they act like it, too. It was after Pedro had tucked away Brighton’s second penalty to make it 4-0 that Spurs started really playing like the Spurs of this season. Alejo Veliz started an improbable comeback in the 81st minute, scoring his first goal for his club off a Son Heung-min cross. Then Ben Davies made it 4-2 via a header, and all of a sudden the visitors owned the game and Brighton were on tenterhooks to put the thing to bed.

Brighton were on said tenterhooks despite being 4-2 up. On what planet is this ever the case? In what galaxy is nine minutes added a potentially fatal blow to a winning team? In the end it was not, and Spurs slid to fifth instead of climbing to third, with the next fixture on January 1 at home to Bournemouth. Their north London rivals Arsenal, meanwhile, slipped to second after a 2-0 home loss to West Ham.

“Fair to say we were looking a bit tired and lacked our usual sharpness, especially at the start of the game,” Postecoglou said.

“We’ve been starting games well … it’s very demanding the way we play physically, and today we looked like a team that wasn’t at its sharpest. Brighton are a good side and they took advantage of that. Ultimately, what I do know is the players, everything they had they gave, and that’s all I can ask for.

“We’re in the position we are because of enormous efforts of a really small section of our squad, and they did it again today. They’ve shown that all year.


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