LONDON (Reuters) - Playing in their temporary home of Wembley Stadium, there was a distinct air of familiarity in the way Tottenham Hotspur once again failed on the big stage, losing 2-1 to Manchester United for their eighth straight FA Cup semi-final defeat.
Dele Alli’s opening strike was cancelled out by goals from Alexis Sanchez and Ander Herrera as Mauricio Pochettino’s men were outplayed by savvier opponents.
It was the same scoreline in Spurs’ other big test of the season at Wembley, the Champions League last-16 second leg against Juventus, where they once again took the lead only to falter under the weight of the occasion.
Spurs can still mathematically catch Jose Mourinho’s side and pip them to second place in the Premier League.
Yet goalscorer Alli knows that for him, his team mates and Tottenham’s fans, this was another promising opportunity blown.
“We let ourselves down, it’s very disappointing,” the forward said.
“You can’t go 1-0 up and then 2-1 down against a team like Manchester United. We can’t put ourselves in that situation...
“We want to win trophies, we have the staff that want to win. We can’t keep doing this. We can’t throw it away. We have got to improve.”
Spurs have not won a trophy since the 2008 League Cup, and have not lifted the FA Cup for 27 years.
The last major final they reached was the League Cup final in Pochettino’s first season at the club in 2014. They lost 2-0 that day to Mourinho’s Chelsea.
For Pochettino, however, the process of transforming Tottenham’s mentality is the most important task at hand.
“We are in a process that to arrive at a semi-final, to be competitive in the Champions League and be competitive in the Premier League fighting for the top four, it’s not enough because everyone feels we are close, we are close, we are close but still we only nearly touch...,” he said.
“Tottenham in the last four years that you follow our process we are building a very good team, trying to create the winning mentality.
“But still at the moment it’s not enough and I think Tottenham need to keep going in this direction and to create that winning mentality (will not take) a few years.”
Pochettino did not criticise any of his players and instead focused on the difficulty of competing with the club’s major rivals.
“The most difficult thing is to be realistic. But at some point you need to be realistic and our fans need to be realistic,” he said.
“If we believe in that process, in the way we are working it will be so easy to face teams like (Manchester) City or United and work our way to win but most of the games you are going to struggle to compete.
“In the way we decide to go, Tottenham is completely different to others... to win a trophy is not easy.”
Despite talk of Tottenham possibly having an unfair advantage due to their Wembley familiarity, the 50-50 split of supporters may have jarred the Spurs players.
They will no doubt be eager to return to their usual north London base, in their new stadium next season and Pochettino wants to make sure that the Champions League anthem will ring out through the new speakers.
“I am disappointed,” said Pochettino, before turning his attention to the battle to finish in the Premier League’s top four and qualify for Europe’s elite competition next season.
“After the game I was very frustrated. But, quick, I move on and sink it in and try to finish the season in the best way.
“We have ahead four games we need to be sure to play Champions League and for sure it will be a successful season if we are able to keep our position.”
Reporting by Christian Radnedge; Editing by Toby Davis