Tottenham were left frustrated as they missed out on the chance to go joint top of the Barclays Premier League after a 1-1 draw at home to Wolves.
And Spurs struggled to give Wayne Hennessey a real test until the second half and it took a 20-yard strike from Luka Modric to ensure they left with a point on an underwhelming afternoon that will do little to convince their doubters that they are credible title contenders.
Tottenham could have moved level with leaders Manchester City and neighbours United with a win, but they are now likely to head in to next weekend's showdown at the Etihad Stadium five points behind the leaders, who play at Wigan on Monday.
For all the pre-match talk of Spurs being serious challengers, they played like anything but champions in the making, especially early on.
McCarthy, whose Wolves team arrived in London without a win since 4 December, cut an animated figure on touchline in opening 15 minutes, but he had little reason to worry.
Modric squirted a shot wide and then had a powerful effort blocked by a posse of Wolves defenders, before he blazed over soon after.
Then, in the 22nd minute, White Hart Lane was stunned in to silence by a controversial Fletcher opener.
The visitors were awarded a dubious corner when Kyle Walker was adjudged to have touched the ball on its way out despite the full-back insisting he did not.
Brad Friedel parried Roger Johnson's header from the corner in to the path of Fletcher and he made no mistake from eight yards. It was the first goal Spurs had conceded at home in 359 minutes.
Gareth Bale stung Hennessey's hands with a low drive as Spurs looked for an immediate equaliser and Van der Vaart blazed over.
Johnson blocked Van der Vaart's goal-bound effort and Modric volleyed at Hennessey as the Spurs onslaught continued, but Wolves' defending was resolute.
Dave Edwards then found space in the Spurs box in a rare Wolves attack but he totally mis-cued his shot.
Harry Redknapp's frustration got the better of him just before the break when he shouted angrily at a member of the Wolves bench for failing to return the ball to the field of play.
The home crowd urged Spurs on and they thought they had equalised in first-half injury-time, but Adebayor's toe-poke from eight yards was ruled out for offside.
Emmanuel Frimpong charged at the Spurs defence moments later and they backed off until Younes Kaboul got a block in.
Already booked, the Ghanian was given his final warning after the break when he clattered in to Modric, but the midfielder almost put Wolves 2-0 up moments later but his fierce volley was parried by Friedel.
The home supporters' frustration grew after Bale skied a shot from the edge of the area, but they were on their feet moments later thanks to Modric.
Van der Vaart skilfully turned in the box to square to Bale, who laid the ball off to the Croatian and he hammered home from 20 yards through a sea of defenders.
Aaron Lennon should have made it 2-1 moments later but he could only fire in to Hennessey's arms after the Wolves 'keeper had saved from Modric.
Frimpong hauled down Lennon on the edge of the box but did not receive a second yellow card. McCarthy was willing to take no more chances on the youngster, however, and he came off for Stephen Hunt with just over 20 minutes left.
Redknapp brought on Jermain Defoe for Lennon as he tried to find a way through.
The England striker, reportedly unhappy at his lack of first-team action, almost made an immediate impact, latching on to a clearance before firing a fierce low drive which Hennessey saved with his feet.
Walker ran 70 yards before seeing his deflected shot sail just wide as the game entered what promised to be a nervous final 10 minutes.
Modric fired a shot just over Hennessey's bar from 25 yards and Scott Parker mis-hit an effort with the goal gaping with five minutes left.
Christophe Berra's foul on Parker gave Spurs a free-kick 20 yards out with little over 30 seconds left but his curled effort went over and the game ended in disappointment as Redknapp's men had to settle for a point.