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Antonio Conte has said his Tottenham side are “now in the hunt” for Champions League qualification after sweeping Newcastle with a devastating second-half performance.

Tottenham’s third successive victory, and their sixth in eight, propelled them into the top four for at least 24 hours and the manner in which they escaped to score five goals may seem worrying for their rivals. Conte has urged caution over their prospects since being appointed in November, more than once suggesting they are well below the standard required for Europe’s top flight, but he has seen enough improvement to believe that they have a realistic chance of finishing the season successfully.

“When I arrived I found a type of situation and at that time it was very hard to believe [we would] to be in the running for the Champions League,” Conte said. “But I think in the last period I saw that my team is now in the running because I saw a big improvement.

“Now you can see a team that has specific characteristics. You can recognize the idea of ​​football, and for that reason I said that we are in the race to try to take a place in the Champions League, because in this moment this team is a team, a team with an idea of ​​football.

Conte went out of his way to praise Harry Kane, who was heavily involved in Spurs’ second and third goals but didn’t score himself, and said he wanted to make sure the England captain was convinced of the long-term direction of the club.

“He deserves the best because he’s a great worker,” he said. “He was a great example for his teammates. When you see him working like this, you want to keep working and working very hard. For this reason, I want to say thank you to him, because he is still a great example and I hope to give him satisfaction. I think he likes playing this type of football and we have to try to continue together because I see a lot of improvement in many players. Everyone improves their level and for this reason, Tottenham go up and up.

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Eddie Howe was disappointed with the way Newcastle, who had led by Fabian Schär, responded to the delay and said the loss was a reminder that their relegation fight had yet to come to fruition. “I’m careful not to overstate my criticisms,” he said. “But we have to be smarter. It was in our desire to get back into the game. What lies ahead is a key week for us. We are in a position in which we did not expect. It may be a small jolt that we cannot anticipate.

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