Somehow, West Ham are the team holding their nerve in the race to qualify for the Champions League. They saw Chelsea and Liverpool drop points and responded with grit to climb into fourth place.
West Ham were clinical when chances arrived and they were dogged in the face of relentless pressure from Tottenham, holding on to a precious victory despite Gareth Bale suddenly remembering he is one of the best players in the world.
It was Bale who led the charge during the second half, assuming responsibility as Spurs tried to fight back after falling behind to goals from Michail Antonio and Jesse Lingard. The winger created a goal for Lucas Moura and hit the bar in the dying stages. Gone was the ineffective, one-paced player who has disappointed since returning to Spurs on loan from Real Madrid; this was Bale at his best, running at opponents and tormenting them with his skill, looking every inch a star who owns four Champions League medals.
The mind drifted back to Bale, in his first spell at Spurs, scoring a stunning last-minute goal to defeat West Ham at Upton Park in 2013. Teams with a weaker spine would have collapsed. But this West Ham side is different. They are made of sterner stuff and when the final whistle blew, Vladimir Coufal fell to the turf, the right-back’s exhaustion typifying the effort from David Moyes’s side. West Ham fought for everything and they delighted in defeating Spurs, who remain in ninth place.
West Ham simply looked hungrier, demonstrating why the odds favoured them in this fixture for the first time since January 2001. Their intensity rattled Spurs during the early exchanges. The tone was set by the way Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek imposed themselves in midfield, while the return of Antonio from a hamstring injury offered West Ham a focal point in attack, giving the busy trio of Pablo Fornals, Jarrod Bowen and Lingard space to scheme and a target man to service.
Antonio bullied Davinson Sánchez and Eric Dier at times and there was more to his game than a willingness to run the channels. West Ham, sharper and more aggressive, needed only five minutes to take the lead with a goal that exposed everything bad about Tottenham’s defending: lethargy in the challenge, a lack of organisation in the centre and a chronic weakness under the high ball.
At least Mourinho scented danger when Vladimir Coufal broke into space on the right, urging Sergio Reguilon to stop West Ham’s full-back from crossing. Spurs were being pushed around and although Reguilon managed to block Coufal’s path forward, West Ham kept pushing when the ball broke loose. Soucek was more alert than anyone in a white shirt, nipping in to find Bowen, whose teasing cross found the Spurs defence in disarray. Nobody wanted to deal with it, leaving Antonio free to score at the second attempt after Hugo Lloris saved his initial volleyed effort.
It was a dreadful goal to concede and West Ham might have extended their advantage. They kept finding space in the wide areas, with Japhet Tanganga struggling at right-back before being replaced by Matt Doherty at half-time. Bowen and Lingard both wasted promising opportunities and Craig Dawson forced Lloris to make a fine save after meeting a corner with a powerful header.
The concern for Moyes was that his side would rue their profligacy. The manager was aghast when Bowen checked back after breaking through on goal. Spurs were bound to threaten at some stage and they almost equalised in the 12th minute, Kane firing wide following a surge from Erik Lamela.
West Ham were pushed back as the half wore on and endured a sticky spell when Soucek went off to have a bloody wound stitched up after clashing heads with Tanganga. Yet Spurs toiled even when they had a numerical advantage for seven minutes. Coufal was working hard to shut Son Heung-min down and although Kane forced Lukasz Fabianski to make an excellent stop on the stroke of half-time, West Ham looked comfortable as they sat back, allowing the visitors to play in front of them.
Spurs were far too ponderous and Mourinho reacted during the break, introducing Bale for Lamela on the right. Yet there was barely time for Bale to have a touch before West Ham doubled their lead. Antonio was involved again, holding up a long ball. Lingard injected urgency, darting in from the left to combine with Fornals. Spurs were statuesque again.
Lingard controlled with a knee to push the ball into the area, speeding past Dier, and the offside Fornals stood aside as the midfielder lashed a brilliant rising shot past Lloris. Although the flag went up for offside, the goal stood when a VAR review confirmed Fornals had not interfered with play.
Spurs had two options at that stage: wilt or respond. To Mourinho’s satisfaction, they chose the latter. Kane went close with a free-kick and Bale threatened when he ran at Aaron Cresswell. It was more like the Bale of old – direct, creative, dynamic – and the Welshman provided the inspiration when Spurs halved the deficit, whipping in a corner for Lucas Moura to beat Fabianski at his near post.
Faced with 26 minutes to protect their lead, West Ham sunk back for a rearguard action. Spurs were transformed, Kane firing inches wide. Bale was a constant threat and a goal looked inevitable when he released Kane with a glorious pass. Rice saved West Ham with an astonishing clearance and the ball came back to Bale, who struck the bar with a venomous shot.
The pressure was relentless. West Ham escaped in added time when Coufal’s attempted clearance deflected off Son and spun over Fabianski before hitting the post. Spurs had done everything but score. West Ham were celebrating a few minutes later. They are in dreamland.
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