Bilic decision backfires as Kane double helps nervy Spurs beat West Ham
LONDON -- Three thoughts on West Ham 2-3 Tottenham at the London Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
1. Harry Kane double punishes the Hammers ... just
It ended with heavy tension and some fraying tempers, as West Ham made a stirring comeback that had looked improbable when 3-0 down to a strutting, strolling Spurs.
Javier Hernandez's goal had looked like a consolation at the time, but Serge Aurier's red card made a contest of this London derby and Cheikhou Kouyate's 87th minute header made the score 3-2 to the visitors.
Until then, the story of the game had been Spurs' attacking trident of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen putting Slaven Bilic's team to the sword.
Kane scored his first in the 35th minute. After Andy Carroll, a substitute for the injured Michail Antonio, skewed a misguided pass to Eriksen, a first-time ball found Alli in space on the right, and his cross was nodded in by a diving Kane.
Carroll was again the guilty party as Kane notched a second goal three minutes later. Eriksen again got on the ball, and it was Jan Vertonghen who eventually played in Alli for a close-range shot that Joe Hart could only smother. The rebound granted Kane an open goal, and he stroked it calmly home.
This lunchtime encounter marked the first time that Kane had scored an away goal against West Ham, although his second strike made it seven goals in six games against Spurs' London rivals. Alli, a player who has developed from being a central midfielder at MK Dons into perhaps English football's most elusive locator of space, continued his prolific level of involvement in Spurs goals. In Tottenham's 28 matches in 2017, the 21-year-old has played a part in 22 strikes, scoring 14, while setting up another eight.
Despite a promising start in which they hustled Tottenham into a number of mistakes, West Ham do not possess the defensive nous to deal with such attacking quality. After a fizzing, low Kane free kick rattled off the base of the post, Eriksen grabbed a third for Spurs on the hour. After Aurier had put the ball back into the box, and with Hart out of position, Eriksen stroked home with the same ease that Kane had shown for his second.
The game looked out of sight, but then came that goal from Hernandez, nodding in a corner in the 65th minute. He remains one of the best attacking headers of the ball in the game, and it was a goal that renewed flagging spirits further lifted by Aurier's dismissal five minutes later for a second yellow card. Then came Kouyate's crashing header from Arthur Masuaku's cross, and it was Tottenham's turn to be on the ropes.
It required Hugo Lloris to make a late save from Aaron Cresswell and a misguided header from Carroll to halt the Hammers' unlikely revival and throw Tottenham fans into loud relief.
2. Aurier struggles, Sissoko improving?
Being dismissed did not make for a happy first Premier League start for Aurier. Having been booked in the 64th minute, his foul on Carroll six minutes later was rash, and there had been warning signs of his vulnerability.
When Marko Arnautovic made a powerful, bending run through the core of Tottenham's midfield and defence in the 17th minute, it took an excellently timed tackle from Aurier to stop what looked a certain goal.
That saving tackle was Aurier having to make up for his own mistake, though Mauricio Pochettino has clearly asked the Ivorian to push forward whenever possible. He showed capability in attack when overlapping down his flank, but there is work to be done to make Spurs fans forget Kyle Walker.
Meanwhile, the absence of Mousa Dembele from the squad as Tottenham attempt to nurse their midfield engine through a longstanding foot problem, and Victor Wanyama's continuing absence with a knee injury, handed a midfield start to Moussa Sissoko, who over a year on from his £35 million signing is still to look settled as a Spurs player.
This season, there have been slivers of improvement from the France international, a former teammate of Aurier's at Toulouse, and Pochettino appears determined to give the midfielder a chance to establish himself.
However, Dembele's absence will always weaken Tottenham since few players possess such strength and skill to hold and carry the ball like the Belgian, although Sissoko did a decent enough job.
That West Ham gained further control of midfield after his 78th minute substitution was a positive sign of his influence.
3. Bad day for Bilic
The sight of West Ham fans peeling for the exit after Spurs' third goal was telling. Supporters are getting twitchy about their manager, although perhaps this late flurry might calm some of the mounting doubts.
A promising, energetic start was squandered as his team fell apart, and the revival of that spirit came too late to stop Tottenham from gaining a first win at the Hammers since Pochettino's first game in charge back in August 2015.
The key to West Ham's downfall was Antonio pulling up with a muscle injury to tear up Bilic's prematch plan of playing him and Arnautovic off Hernandez.
On came Carroll in the 28th minute, and Hernandez was pushed out wide, but aside from drawing the foul that landed Aurier his second yellow card, Carroll suffered a nightmare in being guilty of the misplaced passes that set up Spurs' first two goals. And he was little use as a target man until that flurry. Before that, Spurs had defended with such calm that Vertonghen was frequently able to surge forward to become an extra midfielder.
By the time Hernandez's goal came, Carroll had been banished to the left flank. It raised the question of why one of Diafra Sakho or Andre Ayew had not been brought on for Antonio in the first place. Such questionable decision-making is a complaint frequently aimed at Bilic, who remains under pressure.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.