West Ham stun Tottenham but defeat doesn't ruin Spurs' title chances
LONDON -- Three points from West Ham's stunning 1-0 win over title-chasing Tottenham at Upton Park.
1. A bad night but it could have been worse
There is only one consolation for Tottenham after Wednesday's defeat. What should have been a disastrous result is now, thanks to the incompetence of others, merely a disappointment. Indeed, if anything positive is to be derived from this wretched night, it is that their defeat to West Ham may serve as the slap across the face that wakes them up. Make no mistake; they were terrible at Upton Park, awful in every department but their title challenge is remarkably unharmed.
Spurs started with the best of intentions. They tried to calmly settle into the game but their passing, usually so crisp and clever, was woeful. Never mind the brave ambitious passes Pochettino spoke of before the game, the ones that have cut open so many teams -- even the easy passes were clipped to West Ham players.
The home fans, for whom every game now is a chance to bid a noisy farewell to Upton Park, could sense their anxiety. A London derby under the lights is rarely a subdued affair, but with every scuffed Tottenham pass, the noise levels were ratcheted up still further.
It was Payet, naturally, who created the opening goal. His corner whistled in towards the near post and Michail Antonio was there with a header too powerful for Hugo Lloris to repel. There was, sadly, no Homer Simpson celebration from Antonio this time, as there was against Sunderland on Saturday, but there's no question that he is a homer of a very different kind. This was his sixth goal at Upton Park in 10 games; perhaps he will miss the old stadium more than most.
Nine minutes later, the lead could have been doubled but this time Lloris was able to prevent the goal, hurling himself to his right to slap away Mark Noble's vicious long-range effort. Spurs were rattled. They continued to squander possession. Nacer Chadli strode upfield, Harry Kane made a clever run, the chance was on... but Chadli over-clubbed the pass and the ball bounced out of harm's way. That was the story of their first half.
It could have been embarrassing. A routine back-pass from Kieran Trippier bobbled horribly on the wet pitch and Emmanuel Emenike was nearly able to dispossess Lloris and tuck in number two. Toby Alderweireld's efforts to slow down Dmitri Payet earned him a first half caution, and Kevin Wimmer joined him in the book before the break. When the half time whistle came it brought merciful release though from the look on Pochettino's face, that relief would not be extended to the confines of the dressing room.
Whatever Pochettino said, there was no immediate effect. Just 90 seconds after the restart, Trippier took the ball wide on the right, looked up and smashed a cross out for a West Ham throw-in. Within seconds, Lloris was under pressure on the ball again but then, finally, they offered improvement. Lamela headed well wide from close range, but the build up to the effort suggested that Tottenham were beginning to find their touch.
Slowly, but surely, Spurs found their rhythm. On the hour, Alderweireld smashed in a shot that Adrian could only parry back out as far as Kane, who couldn't quite wrap his foot around the ball before it was gratefully hoofed away. Adrian was soon called into action again, blocking a powerful Erikson shot.
Kane missed another chance soon after, failing to make decent contact on an excellent Eriksen cross and lashing it into the crowd instead. There followed a growing sense that this spirited counter-attack wasn't going to be enough. It wasn't.
Tottenham trudged down the tunnel with no points but in that respect at least, they had kept pace with Arsenal and Manchester City.
2. West Ham stride into a brighter future
West Ham are no respecters of reputation. They've beaten Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool this season and certainly weren't going to be cowed by their London rivals on Wednesday night.
James Collins typified the hosts' attitude -- whenever Spurs tried to loft the ball up to Harry Kane, the man introduced as "the ginger Pele" by the pre-match announcer gave the England striker the sort of treatment that saw the real Pele carried out of the 1966 World Cup.
Dmitri Payet enjoyed another fine game, torturing Trippier down the flank with his energy, bounding into space and relishing every twist and turn. Emenike, on loan from Fenerbahce, worked hard and enough offered flashes of excellence to suggest that there is more to come.
With a little more luck, they would have cruised this by more than a single goal. They could easily have been playing against 10 men for the last 25 minutes -- only referee Andre Marriner will know why he awarded a free-kick in Ben Davies' favour rather than sending him off. But a win against Tottenham is something to celebrate, no matter the final score; the Hammers have enjoyed more than one in recent years.
Slaven Bilic's only mission this season was to stay well clear of a relegation battle that would have been ruinous with the move to the Olympic Stadium on the horizon. He has done that and so much more. As half time approached, the West Ham fans gave up a sarcastic burst of "Super Sam Allardyce." They were warned to be careful what they wished for when they called for Allardyce's head. They seem to have done okay.
3. At least everyone else lost, right?
Misery loves company and there's no shortage of it at the top of the Premier League this week. The look on Pochettino's face when he returned to the dressing room to discover that Arsenal and Manchester City had both lost would have been something to behold.
Welcome to the Premier League. The trophy that no-one wants to win. Did Jose Mourinho activate some kind of ancient curse when he lifted it in May? I think we deserve to know.
Iain Macintosh is a writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.