Sport Soccer

Saturday 25 January 2020

Strikerless Hammers end famine in style to stun Spurs

Tottenham 0 West Ham Utd 3

Jeremy Wilson

As he left the White Hart Lane pitch at the end of a match that oscillated from the ridiculous to the sublime, Mark Noble looked up to the directors' box and caught sight of James Corden.

The comedian, a diehard West Ham fan, was celebrating the club's first away win of the season wildly. Noble reacted with a broad smile and a shrug of the shoulders. It was as if to say: 'How did that happen?'

Sam Allardyce had organised his West Ham team into an unorthodox 4-6-0 formation that was designed chiefly to frustrate Tottenham Hotspur. After 65 minutes, it looked like the best they could hope for was a third goalless draw of the season.

Fourteen minutes later and a wait of almost six hours for West Ham's first away goal of the campaign had been dramatically ended not just once but three times. There was good fortune about two of the goals but the third, after Ravel Morrison's slaloming run through the Tottenham defence, was the work of what Allardyce called "a genius".

Some might also say the same about the manager's game-plan. Allardyce laughed in the post-match press conference when it was put to him that the absence of a conventional centre-forward was reminiscent of Barcelona or Spain but he took a justified pat on the back. Yes, West Ham's primary aim had been damage limitation but Morrison, Kevin Nolan, Mohamed Diame, Ricardo Vaz Te and Stewart Downing had all been encouraged to break forward whenever the opportunities came.

It was a tactic that not only frustrated Spurs but also left them defensively unsettled by the sheer unpredictability of West Ham's counter-attacks.

"I never saw 3-0 coming," Allardyce said. "But what I was hoping for was to continue our huge defensive stability. That was the basis of the tactics in terms of taking the 'No 9' out of the top and interchanging our runners from midfield. Our tactics paid off. It is my job to sit and think: 'What can I do for the players to give them a lift?'

"Having explained it to them and showed what Tottenham do, I told them, 'You have licence to play counter-attack football and, if you do that well, you will expose the spaces Tottenham leave because the more defensively sound we are the more frustrated the opposition will get'."

That certainly proved to be a prescient observation of the match at half-time, with the Spurs stadium announcer provoking laughter from all four corners of the ground when he said, "If you look up to the big screen, we will bring you highlights of the first half."

It had been that bad. Yes, Tottenham were dominant in possession but rarely threatened Jussi Jaaskelainen's goal. Although West Ham were often defending with 10 men behind the ball, they were always dangerous from set-pieces. Tottenham desperately needed a goal to force West Ham into a change of tactics and, seconds after the restart, it should have arrived when Paulinho finally dissected Allardyce's defence. Jermain Defoe had timed his run just as precisely as the pass but his low shot was blocked by Jaaskelainen.

Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas knew this had been a decisive miss and, almost inevitably, it was a West Ham set-piece that provided the game's turning point.

BLOCKED

Downing's delivery was precise, with Winston Reid rising highest and directing his header towards goal. Nolan inadvertently blocked the header but it bounced back off Reid into the goal.

West Ham's second was also slightly fortuitous, with Noble splitting Tottenham's defence for Vaz Te, whose finish bounced off Lloris and then back off his own leg before nestling into the net.

There was nothing lucky about the third. With Spurs committing men forward, Morrison collected the ball inside his own half and sprinted straight for goal. Jan Vertonghen was easily shaken off, Michael Dawson was turned and Lloris, after going quickly to ground, was helpless as Morrison lifted the ball into an empty net.

"They scored how they traditionally score, through set-pieces," Villas-Boas said. "We never got the chance to respond. It is a wake-up call."

Allardyce was rather more blunt. "The fans at Tottenham thought it was going to be an easy win," he said. "If you think like that in the Premier League you will normally get your backside kicked. And they got their backside kicked." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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