GHENT (Belgium) • Mauricio Pochettino hoped that fielding a strong Tottenham Hotspur side in Ghent on Thursday would be rewarded with the handsome victory that he required to get over a punishing week.
Instead the manager's gamble backfired, not just with a 1-0 defeat in the Europa League last-32 first leg but also a knock to the knee for striker Harry Kane.
With three games in eight days coming up, starting with an FA Cup fifth-round trip to Fulham tomorrow, he will need to make judicious use of his squad if Spurs are to arrest their mini slump.
His side were flat in Belgium and fortunate not to be faced with a greater deficit than the single goal supplied by Jeremy Perbet. Spurs will need to raise their game significantly in the return leg on Thursday at Wembley if they are to progress.
Worryingly for Pochettino, many of his best players appeared jaded. Spurs looked better when they changed to three centre-backs after the break and Kane hit the post in their most fluent attacking spell. But they were caught by a sucker punch and showed few signs of mounting a recovery.
Heads have dropped and Pochettino has much work to do after consecutive defeats and two recent draws. But he faced a similar rut in October-November and they emerged to win nine out of 10matches.
3 Matches in eight days for Spurs:
• Tomorrow: Fulham (FA Cup)
• Thursday: Ghent (Europa League)
• Feb 26: Stoke (Premier League)
"That is the reality, it sometimes happens; good and bad things happen," Pochettino said after another setback for his side that followed their 2-0 defeat at Liverpool last Saturday. "We've started now a bad period. I hope on Sunday we break that negative run."
He hinted he will rotate his squad against Fulham.
"We need to refresh the team and we'll do that," he said. "But we'll put out a team with aims to win and be ready again to compete."
TIMES, LONDON, REUTERS
FULHAM V TOTTENHAM
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