Monday 19 March 2018

Kane adds to listless atmosphere for Hammers fans

West Ham United 2-3 Tottenham Hotspur

Harry Kane celebrates scoring his side’s first goal with team-mate Dele Alli. Photo: Getty
Harry Kane celebrates scoring his side’s first goal with team-mate Dele Alli. Photo: Getty

Barney Ronay

On a slow-burn afternoon, Tottenham were always just about beyond West Ham United's reach. Two late goals after Serge Aurier had been sent off with 20 minutes to go dragged a previously dormant side back into this game and drew the first real crackle of noise from the home crowd. A 3-2 defeat will put a hopeful gloss on this performance, and provide Slaven Bilic with evidence of the spirit and drive lurking within his team.

The problem for West Ham was that by the time they started to play here the game had been all but put to bed. Spurs had started cagily, perhaps expecting some lunchtime derby fury, before realising with half an hour gone they were pushing at an open door. Harry Kane scored twice in the first half, taking his tally to 11 in his last five Premier League away games as Spurs showed the best of their slick, high-speed attacking gears, both goals coming from a turnover in midfield, both finished ruthlessly.

On a slightly clammy autumn day in east London both teams had started with three at the back and a pair of roving wing-backs. For Spurs, the presence of Moussa Sissoko as a kind of false No 7 and general right-sided almost-there left Eric Dier the only dedicated central midfielder in a slightly strange, and indeed un-transcribable 3-2-1-2-1-1 formation that West Ham never really tested.

The game took a while to thrum up through the gears,. Spurs had their best moments down the Sissoko-Aurier right flank, also the source of the most glaring miss of the game after 20 minutes. Sissoko's neat pass inside a square West Ham defence gave Aurier space to fizz a low, hard cross that Kane miskicked in front of an open goal.

With 26 minutes gone Andy Carroll came on for Michail Antonio, who looked to have twinged his groin, a change that shifted the dynamic of West Ham's attack, and not in a good way. Antonio can run all day. These days Carroll tends to unsheathe his elbows, find a nice part of the attacking half and put his towel down for the rest of the afternoon. Just past the half-hour mark the game began to wake up, Sissoko and Mark Noble bumping chests and yelling into each other's faces after Noble had slid in a little roughly after a loose ball.

Three minutes later Kane opened the scoring. There was a beautiful severity to the move, four touches from the centre circle to the back of the net. Christian Eriksen played an instant pass to put Dele Alli in space. He took a touch, crossed, and Kane flashed a header into a corner.

West Ham manager Slaven Bilic tries to rally the troops during the match. Photo: Getty
West Ham manager Slaven Bilic tries to rally the troops during the match. Photo: Getty

Tottenham's fans had scarcely stopped leaping up about in their steeply tiered slice behind the goal when it was two.

This time the move came down the right, Jan Vertonghen striding away from Carroll's limp challenge and setting Alli galloping off into space. Joe Hart's block sent the ball straight to the feet of unmarked Kane, who had time to stop, yawn and roll the ball into the net from 20 yards. It wasn't a disastrous goal to concede, just sloppy and loose, a combination of half-hearted, low-pressure interventions and a lack of pace in the home back three.

As the teams left the pitch at half-time to mild groans it was impossible not to be struck once gain by the sheer amount of effort required to generate a football-style atmosphere inside the London Stadium.

The Boleyn Ground would seethe for an occasion like this. For a while at the start of the second half it was hard to believe a Premier League match was actually taking place, as half the stadium seemed to be finding its way back from the refreshment galleries, a football stadium that is in practice a vast craning cantilevered act of dilution. For a while this became the Alli-Eriksen show, Spurs' two most impish creative players finding space in awkward areas against a listless home team. Alli was tripped outside the area. Kane hit the post with a fiercely spanked free-kick, Aurier's cross from the rebound was deflected to Eriksen and he placed the ball low into the corner past Hart. The goal, Eriksen's 34th, took him past Nicklas Bendtner as the top-scoring Dane in the Premier League.

Christian Eriksen of Tottenham Hotspur scores his sides third goal. Photo: Getty
Christian Eriksen of Tottenham Hotspur scores his sides third goal. Photo: Getty

West Ham pulled one back with 25 minutes to go, Javier Hernández heading in at the back post after José Fonte's flick. It was a classic piece of poaching, Hernández's first shot at goal, and just his 20th touch of the ball. Moments later the afternoon shifted a little more as Aurier was sent off, drawing a second yellow for a hack on Carroll from behind. Roused now, West Ham kept fighting, Cheikhou Kouyaté heading in from the sub Arthur Masuaku's fine cross. By the end West Ham might even have snatched a point. This, though, was a game that was lost in that half-speed opening half-hour.


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