Tottenham seemed to be closing to within striking distance of Liverpool at the top of the table. But, as too often, they failed to hold their lead, allowing Romain Saïss to head into the net four minutes from time to negate the early goal scored by Tanguy Ndombele. Wolves deserved the draw, and José Mourinho was left to mull over the wisdom of trying to protect a single-goal lead for so long. His team failed to do that against Crystal Palace earlier this month.
Tottenham are in the midst of a particularly busy period, with this the eighth of their nine matches in December. Although they advanced to the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup by beating Stoke on Wednesday, the festive season had brought little cheer up to this point, successive defeats to Liverpool and Leicester sliding them out of the top four. Their mission at Molineux was to re-establish themselves as title contenders. Mourinho only had to pass on news of West Brom’s draw at Anfield to prove that was not such a far-fetched notion.
Wolves have had a see-saw campaign as Nuno Espírito Santo tries to refine a new identity but they have distinguished themselves as conquerors of London clubs, with their only wins in their last nine outings coming against Crystal Palace, Arsenal and Chelsea. Mourinho’s plan to avoid falling victim to the Midlanders involved deviating from his usual formation to start with a back three and a pair of wing-backs. Nuno used to swear by that setup but began here with the 4-2-3-1 system he has recently adopted.
Tottenham’s right wing-back was the one who became a Premier League stalwart under Nuno, as Matt Doherty returned to Molineux for the first time since his move from the club where he gave a decade of high-class service. Raúl Jiménez made an even more welcome return, with Wolves’ Mexican striker able to follow the action from a corporate box for the first time since suffering a fractured skull at Arsenal a month ago. That action could not have started worse for Wolves, who fell behind within a minute.
Even making it to the 20-second mark seemed a challenge for the hosts, who were opened almost immediately by a straightforward pass from the back by Ben Davies. Son Heung-min’s shot was saved but when the resultant corner came to Davies beyond the back post, the Welshman teed up Ndombele, whose shot from 20 yards curled into the middle of the goal, with Rui Patrício seemingly unsighted by the bodies in front of him.
Now Wolves had to find a way of unpicking Mourinho’s defence. At least they had time on their side. They also have Pedro Neto, who showed his menace almost immediately, whizzing down the right and whacking a teasing ball across the face of goal. It was the sort of service that Jiménez might have relished but none of his teammates on the pitch anticipated it.
Adama Traoré tried a different approach five minutes later, slaloming past three opponents before feeding Danel Podence, who did not get enough power into his shot from the edge of the area to trouble Hugo Lloris. But Wolves’ slickness and movement ensured Spurs had to be hyper-vigilant to keep the hosts at bay.
Ndombele was determined to do more than that. When he broke up a home attack in the 21st minute he strode 50 yards forward, brushing aside tackles like flimsy litter before teeing up Sergio Reguilón, whose finish, alas, was rubbish.
Fábio Silva tried to do better moments later but lashed into the sidenetting from a tight angle after doing well to get on the end of a low cross by Nélson Semedo. When Davinson Sánchez could only head a cross by Traoré in the 37th minute to Podence near the penalty spot, Lloris had to get down smartly to stop the forward’s half-volleyed drive. Those scares aside, Spurs navigated their way fairly comfortably to half-time with their lead intact.
But they could have lost it within 10 seconds of the restart, as Wolves howled for a penalty when Silva beat Doherty to a through-ball by Semedo and then went down in the box, possibly following contact from the defender’s foot. A VAR review did not find conclusive evidence of a foul. Four minutes later Silva failed to make contact with the ball after an inviting cross from the byline by Neto.
Spurs had switched to containment mode but Ndombele burst from midfield to force Coady into a mistake in the 57th minute, with the Wolves’ captain booked for tugging back the Frenchman to prevent him from running away with the ball towards goal.
Mourinho replaced Ndombele with Moussa Sissoko to help close the game out. They were doing that effectively until Saïss got to a corner before Davies and Kane and headed into the net. Suddenly Spurs found themselves having to cling on just for a point.