LEICESTER - Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino slammed his players lack of "fight" after their Premier League title aspirations suffered another damaging blow with a 2-1 loss away to Leicester City.
Tuesday night's defeat meant Spurs have now gone three league games without a win and they will fall 16 points behind Manchester City if the runaway leaders beat Southampton on Wednesday.
Wonder strikes from Jamie Vardy -- his 100th league goal -- and Riyad Mahrez gave the Foxes a deserved 2-0 lead before Harry Kane pulled a goal back for Spurs late on.
Tottenham's Danny Rose was then denied a late penalty after Fernando Llorente was guilty of a glaring miss, but Pochettino was in no mood to seek excuses following a loss that all but ended the north London club's hopes of being crowned English champions for the first time since 1961.
"In the Premier League if you do not fight you are going to struggle and our performance was a clear example of that in the first half when we were 2-0 down," said Pochettino.
"I think in football first of all you must compete, fight and be focused and then of course the quality will come through."
The Argentinian added: "But Leicester showed more than us and were ready to fight. It was difficult to analyse the game because we started so sloppily. Our performance in the first half disappointed us a lot.
"We need to learn from this game. We need to compete -– if you do not fight in the Premier League then the gap is even. We can't afford to not compete and not fight and expect to win games.
"In the first half we had some chances to score to stay in the game but we were poor and that's why I am so disappointed.
"It's difficult to say why because you can't talk about tactics or selection –- it was a collective. The performance was so poor."
Spurs were much improved after the break but they couldn't beat Leicester's determined rearguard and missed chances.
"I think in the second half we competed and we fought and the game could have finished 2-2 or 3-3 but we weren't clinical," said Pochettino.
Spurs were denied what appeared to be a clear penalty at the death when Rose was caught by Wilfred Ndidi.
But Pochettino refused to use that as an excuse, saying: "I don't want to speak about the decision of the referee. The referee didn't give us the decision and that's OK."
The one bright spot for Spurs was the return of Argentinian forward Erik Lamela after 399 days out following surgery to both hips.
"Erik is a player with different quality and it's very helpful to us for the future," said Pochettino.
Meanwhile Leicester manager Claude Puel was delighted by the side's "best performance" since he took charge of the Midlands club in October after the Foxes sacked Craig Shakespeare.
"For the moment, this was the best performance," said Puel. "It was a most promising game for the future."
The Frenchman added: "We need to continue with this positive attitude that we showed.
"We can improve a lot but this game was better than the last one (a 1-1 draw with West Ham) because we managed the whole game with quality.
"In the second half we had to withstand pressure but we kept calm and tried to play."