Spurs undone by Hammers’ derby determination
West Ham inflict Tottenham's first defeat in their new stadium - scuppering hopes of securing a top four finish before Tuesday's Champions League semi final versus Ajax.
27 April, 2019 — By Dan Carrier
West Ham 1 (Antonio 66)
IT could have been the perfect way to go into the forthcoming Champions League semi final double header against Ajax – all but guarantee a top four finish by seeing off West Ham at home, and then coast into the first leg full of confidence.
But a team with a makeshift feel about it fluffed their lines – and West Ham, determined but limited, grew into this Derby.
Once Michail Antonio had given the visitors a 66th minute lead there was only going to be one outcome.
Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino must have warned his players before hand that anything but full commitment against a London club who rank this fixture as a season highlight would mean trouble – yet afterwards he did not comment on what the defeat meant in the race for the top four, but how it would effect Tottenham’s chances of getting to the Champions League final. If the gaffer was framing things in a such a way, and looking at this important league fixture in the context of a mid week cup game to come, is it any wonder the players were, too?
He said: “I am disappointed because it’s a setback. We wanted to win the three points to be in a good position and arrive in the Champions League game in a very good mood and good way.
“The feeling for everyone has changed quickly. After the win here against Brighton on Tuesday everyone had a very good feeling – that we are having a fantastic season and we are going to arrive in our best condition. But after our defeat today it’s like we will arrive the complete opposite.”
Spurs have a maximum of five games left to play – if they do overcome Ajax – and the long season is taking it’s toll. Not only is it evident in the long injury list and the fatigue of those still on their feet, but also in how Pochettino is having to tinker tactics to suit the hand he has to play.
Pochettino gave Eric Dier a rare 90 minutes in a campaign that has seen him constantly injured, Juan Foyth was deployed at right back while Ben Davies and Danny Rose – provided a pivot on the left flank.
In the first half, the Spurs performance was hardly vintage but it felt like they had more in their locker to draw on as they pressed West Ham. A breakthrough seemed likely, though through sheer persistence rather than inspiration. But increasing numbers of misplaced final balls and a lack of urgency was in stark contrast to the major effort put in by the visitors.
In the early salvoes, Heung Min Son saw a close range shot stopped at the near post, while Lucas Moura drove a cracker just wide with Hammers keeper Lukasz Fabianski well beaten.
Christian Eriksen went closest when he found a smidgen of space seven yards out, but his thunderous smack was stopped by Fabianski’s chest.
Time and again that final ball let Spurs down. Gaps opened up but the killer pass or shot just lacked what was needed.
Having weathered things, West Ham started the second period brighter than the hosts, though Spurs should perhaps have been given an opportunity to take the lead with a little more than half an hour ago.
On 56, after some excellent play by Davies, Son dropped a shoulder in the box and shaped to shoot: he was body checked as he did so, and it looked a penalty from every angle except that of the referee.
Then disaster: Antonio fired home on 67 when he broke down the right, took a through ball on his chest and finished powerfully. It had been coming and now Spurs had to chase.
Pochettino was torn between the need to grab an equaliser and protect first teamers from over exertion.
Substitute Fernando Llorente couldn’t reach a cross when unmarked, and Vincent Janssen continued his attempts to get back into Pochettino’s good books by offering a bustling 12 minute cameo. He saw one effort hit with power pushed away Fabianski. It would have been a bring the house down equaliser, but was not to be.
Spurs should have made their place in the top four safe this lunchtime.
Instead, they have to lick their wounds and raise themselves for the monumental challenge of Ajax in four days time.
Spurs: Lloris, Rose (Janssen, 76) Alderweireld, Sanchez, Son, Dier, Dele (Wanyama, 84) Foyth, Eriksen, Moura (Llorente, 65), Davies.
Subs: Gazzaniga, Trippier, Walker-Peters, Skipp.