LONDON -- Mauricio Pochettino felt something was lacking from Tottenham's performance in Friday's 1-0 defeat at West Ham and admitted afterwards: "If you want to be a champion, these are games you have to win."
Manuel Lanzini's second-half goal leaves Tottenham's title hopes in tatters and Chelsea, who have a four-point lead at the top of the table with a game in hand, could be confirmed as champions before Pochettino's team play again.
Spurs have taken 27 points from the past 30, winning nine straight matches to reduce the gap to the league leaders from 13 points to four, but Pochettino admitted they needed to be winning this type of game to fulfill their ambitions.
"If you win the league, you learn. If you come second, then yes you've improved, but you need to show in a moment when you need to show," Pochettino told a postmatch news conference.
"To win a league or a trophy is a key moment. Today was a key moment to show that. It's not about playing well or running around more or less, it's about when you must win, you win. If you want to be a champion, these are games you have to win. How I don't know. I think today I think we missed a bit of something."
Spurs lost 1-0 at Upton Park last season in mid-March, in a result that denied them the chance to move above eventual champions Leicester City in the table. However, Pochettino rejected the comparisons with that game and said his side must ensure they avoid another late-season collapse in the final three matches.
"For me, we must move on and finish in the best way this season, still fighting. Now to be realistic it's more difficult than before," he said.
"The circumstances were completely different [from last season]. It was in a different period, in March last season, in the middle of the week. I remember because it was my birthday, March 2. I think it's coincidence. It's so difficult to explain. For me it was different, then it was Upton Park and now the Olympic Stadium.
"I am calm, disappointed of course because we missed an opportunity to reduce the gap on Chelsea.
"I think it wasn't our best day. The performance was just OK. Maybe in the end we don't deserve to lose, but we did because we conceded a goal. When we conceded it was so difficult to come back in the game."
Speaking to Sky Sports after the match, Spurs midfielder Eric Dier could not hide his disappointment with the result.
"It was already going to be hard before, so now it's even harder. That's all I can say really," he said.
"It's disappointing really because we were on a fantastic run and we didn't think it was going to stop.
"They made it hard for us, they played very deep and we couldn't create many chances."
Dier added: "We brought it [the deficit to Chelsea] back to four points but after today it's nearly impossible now.
"We'll give everything for these last three games, no matter what."