Football is a game of thousands of individual actions but it is so often one moment and one player’s single movement which determines the outcome of a match. Or, in this case, one player’s lack of movement.
hen Aaron Cresswell’s corner dropped in the Tottenham Hotspur penalty box, Michail Antonio reacted sharply while his marker, Harry Kane, stood motionless alongside him. One flick of the leg, one split second of hesitation, and one goal for West Ham United. For it to be Antonio scoring, while in the clutches of Kane, felt symbolic on an afternoon that had been viewed by many through the prism of the two strikers.
Antonio the muscly striker, running in behind and looking for battles, up against Kane the technician, dropping deep and attempting to create chances for others.
Of course, this match was far more than a duel between Antonio and Kane. This was a London derby, after all, and there were intriguing contests all over the pitch. But the image of Antonio wheeling away to the corner flag in delight, and Kane looking to the skies in anguish, felt like the defining snapshot.
The David Moyes revolution continues to gain momentum, with West Ham flying in Europe and now climbing the league table at pace. This victory, their sixth in seven matches in all competitions, took them up to fourth. They are showing that last season was no fluke, as well as providing a strong riposte to those who had suggested they were benefiting from the absence of their supporters.
“We are growing characters,” Moyes said. “If you look at where these boys were two or three years ago, they have all blossomed. The club is blossoming. That comes from the team and it comes from inside the building. The players are all improving together.”
Nuno Espirito Santo’s first season in north London has been nothing if not erratic so far, and it says so much about the mood around Tottenham that this defeat could easily send them spiralling into another mini-crisis. If Thursday’s Europa Conference League defeat by Vitesse Arnhem was humiliating, then this was another concerning showing from Nuno’s team.
Tottenham did not take a single shot in the second half, which was a reflection of their lack of creativity and Kane’s own struggles against the West Ham back line. Kurt Zouma and Angelo Ogbonna were immovable for the home side, defending with an intensity and aggression which left Tottenham cowed.
For West Ham’s opponents, there will always be danger from set-pieces. They did not reach their highest levels in open play, and struggled at times to control the flow of the match, but they are a constant threat from corners and free-kicks. Antonio’s goal was their fourth from set-pieces in the past week, with Cresswell again providing superb delivery.
How Tottenham must wish they could also conjure a goal out of nothing. It was another afternoon on which it felt like everything had to fall their way for even a chance to be fashioned, and the best efforts of Tanguy Ndombele were not enough alongside the more defensively-minded Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Oliver Skipp.
Nuno said he felt the game was under control, and reacted waspishly to suggestions of a lack of creativity. Only Ndombele looked likely to unbalance the defence.
That is not to say West Ham dominated throughout. It was a typically intense and competitive game between these two rivals from the start, with the teams trading jabs in the first half without ever landing significant blows. The best of the home side’s opportunities in the early stages fell to Tomas Soucek, who headed a few inches wide after Pablo Fornals had picked him out at the back post.
As for Tottenham, they had glimpses of goal through Son Heung-min, running on to Ndombele’s pass, and Kane, who was found at the back post, but Lukasz Fabianksi was alert on both occasions. For much of the second half it felt as if both sides were too afraid of losing the game to really try to win.
It was becoming a match of fine margins, and such games are often settled on the smallest of details. Antonio stuck out a leg for Cresswell’s corner, Kane stood still, and the London Stadium bounced with the joy of it all.
From there, Nuno’s side never looked likely to come back and they could have no legitimate complaints about a result which will leave them asking yet more questions of themselves and their overall direction as a team.
Nuno denied his team had a creativity problem. “I think the team needs to be balanced,” he said. “To be balanced in terms of the presence of the players. And we have enough creativity with our full-backs, our attackers. I don’t agree [that Tottenham are not creative enough].”
Moyes praised the defensive solidity of his side. “There was a resilience to the team,” the West Ham manager said. “Some of our football this season has been so good. Today it was slightly different, but it was still good.”
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