By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - When Tottenham Hotspur topped the Premier League in December even those fans who opposed the appointment of Jose Mourinho as manager were starting to believe the Portuguese might be the Special One after all.
After Thursday's depressing defeat by Chelsea, Tottenham's third on the spin, that belief has evaporated with the north London club going backwards at an alarming rate of knots.
While Chelsea under new manager Thomas Tuchel have moved up to sixth in the Premier League, Tottenham have sunk to eighth and there appears little sign of things improving soon.
The season begun with Tottenham putting five goals past Southampton and hitting Manchester United for six with Mourinho, better-known for the pragmatic football that has won him sackloads of silverware as a manager, apparently throwing caution to the wind.
That was replaced with grinding performances but Tottenham still reached the summit with a counter-attacking win over Manchester City in November and returned there in December after beating Arsenal.
Pretty it was not, but effective it most definitely was.
Now, however, Tottenham's style is neither and had their magnificent stadium been full with 60,000 fans on Thursday, Mourinho would have endured an uncomfortable night.
Admittedly they were without injured talisman Harry Kane and quicksilver right back Sergio Reguilo but even if they had been fit it is unlikely to have made much difference with Tottenham out-passed and out-witted by an impressive Chelsea side who should have won by more than Jorginho's first-half penalty.
Tottenham's motto is "to dare is to do" but there was precious little evidence of that as, apart from a late flurry, they were utterly devoid of creativity or spirit.
With a League Cup final to come against Manchester City, offering the chance of a first trophy since 2008, and with the club still in the FA Cup and Europa League, it is unlikely Mourinho will not see out the season.
But he knows his reputation as one of the world's best managers is in danger of further damage if Tottenham's season continues to unravel.
Mourinho stood by his team on Thursday, but could not disguise a dreadful start.
"The performance in the first half was inferior to Chelsea. They had the initiative. They had the ball," he said.
"But the reality of the first half is that with them being superior, it was a penalty that decided the first half and that decided in the end the result of the game.
"In the second half we were much better and because we were much better they were not superior at all."
Although his side did finish strongly and could have earned an undeserved point had Carlos Vinicius not missed a glorious chance it was still a chastening night for Mourinho who suffered consecutive home league defeats for the first time in his career.
"Confidence levels are very, very important to play football," he said. "When a team doesn't have good results, a period when results are not good, you need that click back to go back to normality."
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond)