Ange Postecoglou defended his “tired” Tottenham team after they were blown away in a six-goal thriller at Brighton.
Joao Pedro struck a brace of penalties while Jack Hinshelwood and Pervis Estupinan produced fine strikes in a well deserved 4-2 victory for Roberto De Zerbi’s men.
While Alejo Veliz and Ben Davies scored in the final 10 minutes, Spurs were second best for much of the night and suffered a fifth Premier League defeat of the campaign.
Both clubs have faced numerous injuries during recent months, with Brighton without eight players for this contest and Tottenham nine, which led to Postecoglou taking a philosophical view.
Postecoglou said: “Fair to say we were looking a bit tired and lacked our usual sharpness, especially at the start of the game. We’ve been starting games well.
“I guess that’s understandable, we’ve been on this run for a while now and asking players to perform at levels. It’s very demanding the way we play, physically, and today we kind of 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.”
Pedro found the unmarked Hinshelwood to fire beyond Guglielmo Vicario, who had twice denied Danny Welbeck early on, and the Brazilian then rolled home a spot-kick after Dejan Kulusevski was penalised for pulling Welbeck.
Vicario was forced into action several more times, while James Milner also hit the post before Estupinan capped his comeback appearance with a goal from 25 yards.
The offside flag had denied Richarlison twice but Spurs’ miserable night was compounded when substitute Giovani Lo Celso brought down Evan Ferguson and Pedro slotted home to make it 4-0.
Tottenham fought back with Veliz scoring his first goal in English football with nine minutes left before Ben Davies headed home at the back post, but it finished 4-2.
Postecoglou had no qualms with either penalty decision, although did take umbrage with VAR not punishing Brighton captain Lewis Dunk for a poor tackle on Kulusevski in the build-up to Veliz scoring.
“It was obviously clear and obvious because it only took him (Jarred Gillett) three minutes to see it on the screen, and VAR picked up everything today except the one tackle which nearly cost me another player,” Postecoglou added.
“It’s been difficult this whole run. We’ve been stretched for a very long time and we’ve just tried to play on through it.
“We’re only in the position we are because of the enormous efforts of the players to do jobs that normally is not in their brief, but they do it willingly and they give everything. Today we fell short but not for the want of trying.”
De Zerbi toasted a brilliant end to a special year where Brighton finished sixth, made the FA Cup semi-finals and progressed into the last 16 of the Europa League.
“Yes, the best way to finish the year,” he added.
“We played a great game because we show incredible courage to defend men-to-men for 90 minutes and to play with that courage, that quality, that style.
“I am sorry we concede two goals and I am sorry we have no clean sheet.”