In his quieter and more personal moments, you suspect these are the sorts of wins that give David Moyes a warm tingling feeling. One-nil, at home, against your local rivals, from a set piece. A plan soundly executed. A proper, noses-in-the-dirt defensive rearguard at the end. And for West Ham, who now take Tottenham’s place in the Premier League top four, further proof that Moyesball is good against all oppositions, in all conditions.
Michail Antonio reacted quickest to punt home Aaron Cresswell’s corner 18 minutes from time, a poacher’s finish against his favourite opponents. In truth Antonio had had a quiet game to that point and this was not a flawless team performance by any stretch. But there was a real stomach and maturity to the way they managed this game, seeing out the tough periods before gradually raising the volume in the second half. Declan Rice deserves a special mention here: again, immense.
It was a salty, edgy sort of game: Tottenham the better side for long periods, enjoying the majority of the possession and openings, but with that unexploded bomb of a defence always ticking away in the background, threatening to detonate. It’s now 10 games without a clean sheet in all competitions, and you can sense that edginess whenever an opposition team ventures anywhere near their penalty area or puts in a set piece: that addling brew of fear, caution and self-fulfilling prophesy.
It got fractious in the second half, too: Cristian Romero and Pablo Fornals angrily tangling with each other, the tackles flying in, the home crowd menacingly sensing an opportunity to turn the screw. Ultimately that was only going to help one side, and as the free-kicks and corners began to pile up, West Ham’s much-heralded strength at dead balls again proved the difference. Antonio’s winning goal was met with a giant, soaring growl, the satisfied roar of a stadium that had seen in advance how this would all pan out.
Certainly the London Stadium is a far happier place these days than in recent years, gilded by European football and a team of players finally worthy of filling it. And the home side enjoyed the better of the early stages, moving the ball forward with purpose and confidence, looking to set the slaloming Jarrod Bowen loose on Tottenham’s nervy defence. An acrobatic volley from Fornals, saved by Hugo Lloris, seemed to set the tone.
But slowly and by degrees Tottenham were beginning to get a grip of the game, with their midfield three of Oliver Skipp, Tanguy Ndombele and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg working the ball around West Ham’s two with some clever combinations. Sergio Reguilon at left-back was a frequent outlet, the skittish pace of Lucas Moura and Son Heung-Min a reliable threat in behind. At the back, Romero was dealing well with the slippery, multi-disciplinary challenge of Antonio, who until his late goal barely got a whiff.
Harry Kane was having a decent afternoon. You sense there is a part of him that rather enjoys simply being a striker again rather than a high-stakes transfer saga, and as Tottenham leaned into the game so did he. He began to drop a little deeper and direct play, playing a sumptuous pass to Son that created a chance for Moura. Just before half-time a towering leap to meet Reguilon’s searching cross forced a good save from Lukasz Fabianski.
In retrospect, Tottenham probably should have scored during that strong period either side of half-time. After the break Tottenham had several threatening counter-attacks only to mess up the final ball: Ndombele, Moura and Kane all guilty. With around 25 minutes to go Romero and Fornals clashed by the left touchline, and after the resulting melee and stoppage Tottenham never really regained their fluency. Not long after, a horrible error from Hojberg let Fornals in on goal, and although his shot was tipped over by Lloris, a corner was the result.
Four of West Ham’s last five goals had come from set pieces. Tottenham are bad at defending set pieces. For Cresswell and Antonio it was a marriage made in heaven, and as the corner somehow evaded two Tottenham heads Antonio manoeuvred himself towards the near post to meet it with a firm boot. Kane was culpable here too, not so much marking Antonio as giving him a supportive cuddle, and doing almost nothing to deter the shot.
Tottenham were far too spooked to offer any sort of riposte. Nuno Espirito Santo waited until the 84th minute to change things, and as Giovani Lo Celso and Bryan Gil pranced aimlessly around in the closing minutes, you could sort of see why. The problems at this club are many and varied, and not the least of them are West Ham themselves: a team who have rapidly closed the gap in recent years, and may now be pulling clear.