In his quieter and more personal moments, you suspect these are the sorts of wins that give David Moyes a warm tingling feeling: 1-0, 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.
Something special is at West Ham: a sense of progress and ascendancy that contrasts sharply with the whiff of tired decay emanating from their rivals. “If you look at where these boys were a few years ago, they’ve all blossomed,” Moyes said. “They’re all feeling important, they’re all thinking they can make a difference. Maybe we didn’t play quite as well today, but winning the games is really important.”
What are Tottenham trying to do? Occasionally you could see the bones of a strategy here: periods of front-foot football, dangerous breakaways, an attempt to dominate the midfield. Indeed Tottenham were 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 them.
And when things go wrong, they go wrong quickly and decisively, and with a certain self-fulfilling prophesy. Nuno Espírito Santo argued that Tottenham were the better side, but when you are this frail and spineless then it scarcely matters. Above all you feel that Tottenham need a full-scale reboot, a new idea, something drastic to arrest this sensation of gradual decline, that the good times have gone and aren’t coming back in a while.
There are still foundations to build on. Oliver Skipp and Tanguy Ndombele had a good game in midfield, and were instrumental in seizing control of the game after a nervy start. Sergio Reguilón at left-back was a frequent outlet, the front three busy if a little imprecise. At the back, Romero was dealing well with the slippery, multi-disciplinary challenge of Antonio, who until his late goal barely got a whiff.
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 Heung-Min that created a chance for Lucas Moura. Just before half-time a towering leap to meet Reguilón’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 counterattacks 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 Pierre-Emile Højbjerg let Pablo Fornals in on goal, and although his shot was tipped over by Hugo 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 and thump it into the bottom corner. 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 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 on their current trajectory are now threatening to pull clear.