By Callum McCarthy,
After a disappointing 4-1 loss to North London rivals Arsenal midweek, Tottenham Hotspur had a golden opportunity to put one over a team they hold an even fiercer hatred for this past Saturday.
Their opponents West Ham United had scored a paltry total of 3 league goals going into their clash on Saturday, and had yet to win a game this season under Avram Grant.
Instead of using such an occasion to spark their domestic season into life, Tottenham drew another blank against a bottom-half opponent that should deeply worry manager Harry Redknapp. Both Luka Modric and Rafael Van Der Vaart were present for Tottenham, but without the dynamic Gareth Bale in an attacking position, Spurs looked worryingly toothless.
With Benoit Assou-Ekotto not fit to start, Bale was relocated to left-back, depriving Spurs of their key mode of penetration on the left flank. This, coupled with an out-of-form Aaron Lennon, meant that Spurs created very little out wide, relying instead on their Dutcho-Croat midfield engine to provide a cutting edge through the middle.
West Ham stood firm, and scored the only goal of the game just before the half-hour.
After a tricky run from Kieron Dyer led to a corner, Mark Noble’s floating delivery found Frederic Piquionne, who beat the flat-footed Vedran Corluka and headed past Cudicini.
They could have had their lead doubled before half-time, new signing Victor Obinna almost putting the icing on an impressive debut with a quickfire shot that was neutered by Cudicini.
With Van Der Vaart (photo) in the game, Spurs looked like they could snatch an equaliser. Doing much of his work from deep, the Dutch playmaker pulled strings throughout the game and looked a class apart from both his teammates and counterparts.
Despite this, Van Der Vaart is still searching for match fitness, and after being forced to work hard for possession all afternoon, he was substituted — one eye already on Wednesday’s Champions League meeting with FC Twente.
This was effectively the death knell for Spurs, who couldn’t find the cutting edge necessary to strike back — another disappointing loss for a team who are majorly underachieving this season.
As for West Ham, victory over their most hated rivals has the potential to kick-start their season, and Robert Green’s superb performance will be a huge positive to take away from Saturday’s game. After a horror-show at the World Cup, Green put in a fantastic performance, denying Spurs from range in a confident fashion.
His relief at such a showing was obvious — if not a little misguided — as he attempted to convey his feelings about being scapegoated by the fans by flashing a rather risque gesture in the direction of the press box.
For Tottenham, their first Champions League home fixture in almost 50 years comes on Wednesday, followed closely by a home date with Aston Villa.