Battling Spurs slip to defeat at West Ham
Woodwork denies Tottenham twice in dramatic finale at the London Stadium as Hammers hang on to seal 2-1 victory
21 February, 2021 — By Dan Carrier at the London Stadium
WEST HAM 2 (Antonio 5, Lingard 47)
SPURS 1 (Lucas Moura 64)
THE half-time double substitution is one of those doom-laden decisions for a manager to make.
It is a tacit admission that the team you sent out just 45 minutes previously with your instructions and encouragement ringing in their ears haven’t had the effect you hoped.
Today’s half-time swap by Jose Mourinho is a clear sign of how badly his team have performed in recent weeks, losing four games out of five.
Since Tottenham failed to increase their lead at the top of the Premier League after drawing with Chelsea in November, it’s been downhill all the way.
Mourinho brought on Gareth Bale and Matt Doherty at half-time against West Ham as his side trailed to an early Michail Antonio goal and there was a lesson in it: when he lets his side off the leash, when Spurs have to spill forward, it’s bright, fun, dominating football.
The issues today for Tottenham was their final ball and shots that weren’t quite up to the mark – though they hit the frame of the goal three times.
Their pressure and effort eventually counted for nothing after being undone by two utterly naive errors.
Goals scored early at the start of each half by Antonio and Jesse Lingard was enough for the Hammers, and the defeat leaves Spurs facing the reality that they now have to win the Europa League to get into the Champions League next year, a competition players like Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son deserve to be performing in.
Despite Dele Alli’s lively contribution on Thursday in the Europa League and his determination to play his way back into the side, he could only make the substitutes bench today.
Bale was in the same situation – his solid performance, topped off by a nice goal against Austria’s lowly Wolfsberger, was not enough to convince Mourinho he was ready to start in what is always a keenly-contested encounter.
If anything illustrates Mourinho’s pragmatic, safety first approach, it was those who got the nod ahead of the two fans’ favourites at the London Stadium.
Mourinho went for Erik Lamela’s bite and Lucas Moura’s work rate instead of Alli’s nutmegs and the air of romanticism that still wafts around Bale – and when the pair did play, it was an attacking treat that we haven’t seen for a while.
Whatever the game plan, Spurs immediately made it difficult for themselves this afternoon. A ball lofted in by Jarrod Bowen in the opening five minutes wasn’t read by the Spurs defenders, allowing Antonio to toe a shot goalwards.
Hugo Lloris stopped it on the line but couldn’t get the ball to safety and Antonio stabbed home from a yard out.
Shaking off the air of abject depression around the club at the moment, Tottenham began to crank through the gears.
Kane almost levelled things on 12 minutes, finding space created by Lamela’s hustling and a zig-zag of a dribble. The striker later forced Lukasz Fabianski down low to scramble away.
Mourinho would have been encouraged by the spirit his side showed, and responded by sending on Bale. But within a minute of the re-start, West Ham grabbed their second via Jesse Lingaard.
The 2-0 deficit saw Spurs throw all caution out of the window as they set about salvaging the match.
Moura headed home off a Bale corner to make it 2-1, and Bale was giving West Ham a torrid time whenever he got hold of the ball, creating multiple chances.
None were sweeter than watching Bale cut inside with about 15 minutes to go. He found space and from distance drove a thunderous shot goalwards – only to see it spin off the cross bar. It had shades of Bale in his final season at Spurs.
But that hairs breadth between success and failure remained, and the breakthrough, however deserved, did not come.
When Bale first played for Spurs it took a good couple of seasons for him to have the confidence that he was up for it. He seemed to be playing within himself, like Peter Parker just discovering he was Spiderman.
It feels like that again. The hope must be that today’s confidence building performance for the loanee, despite the final score, sees him set Spurs alight through the spring, taking the club to a Europa League final, and maybe even winning the League Cup, too.
West Ham: Fabianski, Coufal, Diop, Dawson, Cresswell, Soucek, Rice, Bowen (Benrahma, 65), Lingard (Noble, 90+4), Fornals (Johnson 82), Antonio
Substitutes not used: Balbuena, Lanzini, Alves, Martin, Randolph, Odubeko
Tottenham: Lloris, Tanganga (Doherty, 45), Sanchez, Dier, Reguilon (Alli, 77), Hojbjerg, Ndombele, Moura, Lamela (Bale, 45), Son, Kane
Substitutes not used: Hart, Alderweireld, Winks,, Sissoko, Davies, Vinicius