Paul Lambert refused to condemn Christian Benteke after the striker was sent off as Aston Villa slipped to a sixth straight defeat against Tottenham.
Substitute Harry Kane's netted a last-minute winner following Nacer Chadli's equaliser with just six minutes left to earn Spurs a 2-1 victory at Villa Park.
The hosts had been leading by Andreas Weimann's early strike - Villa's first goal in 547 minutes - when they were reduced to 10 men in the second half when Benteke was dismissed following a clash with Ryan Mason.
The Belgium international was sent off after he pushed Mason in the face following the midfielder's second-half challenge and Lambert felt it changed the game.
He said: "I can't condone what Christian did, lifting his hand, but he was provoked.
"If you go back a frame you see the lad putting his head in Christian's face. If you do that you understated why Christian did it, you don't get away with it, but my daughter can thrown a harder forearm than that.
"I understand the emotion and adrenaline rush, if someone puts their head in your face your natural reaction is to push them away.
"In sport you won't get away with it. Football is a game of emotion and that can happen. They couldn't cope with him the way he was playing.
"It's a setback for him and for us, he's going to be missing the next few games."
Benteke will now miss Villa's next three games with Lambert's side 15th in the table.
The win was only Tottenham's second in eight league outings but lifted them to eighth, three points adrift of the top four.
Boss Mauricio Pochettino resisted calls to start Kane after his seven goals in cup competitions but was pleased with his match-winner.
He said: "We are really happy with him because in every competition he has scored, his display was good and the three points are very important for us.
"In football it's about emotional state and Harry had confidence and took the ball (for the free-kick) and scored.
"It was a good result because we won three points. I am happy and the team showed their character.
"Our position in the table was not good. Now we are three points off the places for the Champions League.
"In football it can change a lot. We know the situation, we need to build something special and in that process you need time and to be strong."