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Tottenham Hotspur boss Antonio Conte said his team found it difficult to play against Brighton & Hove Albion after the death of their fitness coach but Saturday’s victory showed he could always count on his squad to rise to the occasion.

Spurs’ popular fitness coach Gian Piero Ventrone died earlier this week aged 61, just days after he was diagnosed with leukaemia, leaving the Premier League club devastated at his sudden demise.

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Conte was visibly emotional during the minute’s applause prior to kickoff while captain Hugo Lloris held up a shirt with Ventrone’s name to the travelling support following the 1-0 win that moved Spurs to within three points of the top of the table.

“It was a really tough week for us, not only for me — my staff, players and all the Tottenham environment. He was a person who was in the heart of every single Tottenham person,” Conte told the BBC.

“It was really tough for us. Tomorrow is the funeral, we will go with the staff. It is very difficult for me to speak about the situation because it is difficult to understand what happened.

“At the end, to win a game today against a really strong team like Brighton, it shows that I can count on not only good players but also good men.”

Conte had previously worked with Ventrone when the Spurs manager was still a player while the fitness coach was also a member of Marcelo Lippi’s staff that guided Italy to the World Cup title in 2006.

He had also worked with Juventus, Catania, JS Suning, Guangzhou Evergrande and AC Ajaccio before moving to Spurs last year to join Conte’s staff.

“I try to stay very close to his family because I have known them for a long time,” Conte added.

“Sometimes life is not always positive things. There are bad situations, but at the same time you have to be good to cope with those moments in the right way.”

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