Steve Coppell looked like a beaten man who was beating himself up. "We stood still last summer," the Reading manager said. "Everybody else moved. If you look at the champions, Manchester United, they spent £50m. Maybe I would accuse myself that we stood still. I took the calculated risk not to spend much money. If it doesn't work, it's my fault.
"Other teams were spending £20m, £30m, and we certainly didn't have that much. Over the last two years we set the players the goal of winning promotion, which they achieved with a record total of points. We set the goal last year of maintaining their Premier League status, which they did from eighth position.
"Once again, I made the decision that I didn't want to reward two years of success by telling half the team, 'Thanks a lot, but you're finished now'. We have a certain mentality. We never bought promotion. Last year we took advantage of teams who cocked up. We had momentum from the previous year, but you beat the system with money. It's the only way you can beat it. I spoke with Sam Allardyce in the summer and I asked him what's the secret to what he did at Bolton and he said, 'Spend, spend, spend'. Unfortunately, that probably is the secret."
So Reading didn't spend, but what should they have done? And didn't they have the money to spend in the first place? Coppell's arguments, although impassioned, were as muddled as his team's performance in losing dismally to Spurs. Indeed, there was a post-match air that suggested he may not be the club's manager for much longer. Coppell, having not spent, appeared spent.
The admirable cussedness of the man is that if Reading, who face Derby County next Sunday, do go down, as appears likely after they slipped back into the bottom three, Coppell will probably stay on to try to see them back up.
If they survive he may do a Paul Jewell and walk out as the former Wigan Athletic manager did on the final day of last season. Whatever the outcome, Reading, with much the same side that got them promoted two years ago, have slid dramatically. To not win in six games at this time of the season is one thing. To not even score in any of those matches is another. Three wins since Christmas say it all and as James Harper, the Reading midfielder, slowly walked off the pitch at the end he was in prayer.
"We sensed the tension," said Spurs' goalscorer Robbie Keane. "Unfortunately, that's the way it is. I've got mixed emotions because there are a few Irish lads there who I'd like to stay in the Premiership." They will not on this evidence unless the previously sought-after Kevin Doyle and Stephen Hunt move. It is also appearing increasingly likely that Dimitar Berbatov may too, be on his way. When asked whether the Bulgarian striker – missing on Saturday because of a groin injury – had played his last game for Spurs, their head coach, Juande Ramos, gave that usual shrug and replied: "I don't know, I hope not." Aaron Lennon was absent also and he, too, may not be at White Hart Lane after the summer.
A first win in six was easily gained. Keane – alongside Darren Bent, making just his 11th start of the season – carved Reading apart. He struck when the two strikers combined, stabbing the ball past Marcus Hahnemann, who was also beaten by Steed Malbranque although, wrongly, the effort was ruled out for offside.
Goal: Keane (16) 0-1.
Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Rosenior (Oster, 88), Ingimarsson, Duberry, Shorey; Doyle (Long, 80), Bikey (Matejovsky, 65), Harper, Hunt; Lita, Kitson. Substitutes not used: Federici (gk), Cisse.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Cerny; Hutton, Dawson, Woodgate, Gilberto; Jenas, Zokora, Huddlestone (O'Hara, 61), Malbranque; Keane (Boateng, 77), Bent. Substitutes not used: Robinson (gk), Chimbonda, Taarabt
Referee: H Webb (South Yorkshire)
Booked: Reading Harper.
Man of the match: Malbranque.