Forget the scoreline showing a late second goal securing a relatively narrow victory, this was a match that Spurs dominated from start to finish. A series of fluent passing movements created a steady flow of goalscoring opportunities, whilst at the back our defence were largely untroubled by the poorest team we have faced so far this season.
Modric’s return presented an additional tool with which to dismantle West Ham’s 4-5-1 formation and we passed our way round their midfield to repeatedly expose the heart of their defence. Lennon proceeded to torment his full back who eventually limped off, fitness and confidence broken by the onslaught. His breathtaking burst to set up the first, hurtling at full tilt onto Defoe’s throughball, was one the finest moments of the season. The only danger is that we become too easily accustomed to such shimmering brilliance. I continue to marvel with slack jawed expectancy at wing play of the highest quality, a lost art consigned so I thought to another age and time. Modric was there to convert the cross and he joyfully celebrated in front of the Park Lane.
West Ham are a team of bit-part players searching in vain for a main character. Franco and Diamante are willing and neat, Collison highly promising and Stanilas’ pace can threaten but crippled by injuries they have failed to grasp the plot. If Zola (a man I admire as both player and manager) truly believed his post match comment on 5 Live that his team had the better of the second half then the pressure is sadly getting to him. To see Parker’s disconsolate figure disappearing down the tunnel as the celebrations for Modric’s goal subsided was an additional bonus. One up and their best player departed.
The opportunities continued to present themselves. We retained possession well for once, Huddlestone took up good positons and the little maestro drifted in from the left to remain involved. Assou Ekotto and Corluka, who had a good game, shrewdly using the angles with simple, effective passing throughout, supported well as they were under little pressure.
We allowed the tempo to drop and so West Ham could at least dampen our attacking efforts. They set up their midfield to encourage us to move down the left in an attempt to cut off the supply to Lennon. Every so often we suddenly upped the pace around their box and chances would arise. Here is Modric’s great skill, holding the ball, passing it on and then a swift dart or first time ball. We combined well as a team today, one twos and neat triangles with support for the man in possession.
Gomes was seldom troubled, a fine late save from our opponents only real chance being his most notable contribution to a game where he was well protected by his defence. Dawson was again the pick, alert, muscular and decisive alongside Ledley’s reassuring presence. In front of them, Palacios had his best game for a long while, anticipating well and strong in the tackle. With all our attacking excellence, this was perhaps the most quietly pleasing outcome of the game. He has not only been off form, he has also been suffering visibly. This performance will do much for him and for the team.
I am wary of the cruise control on my car. Far from relaxing me as intended, I dislike the feeling of not being in total control and anyway slight adjustments are always required. Allowing the pace of our game to drop meant a false sense of security and could have been costly as we should have been two or three goals to the good by half time. West Ham went to 4-4-2 in the second half but fared little better. As the game wore on, our battle was increasingly against the tension that simmered around the Lane as we protected a single goal lead. A deflection or a breakaway, we’ve seen it so many times before as our superiority has been wasted, so relief all round as Defoe joyfully smashed in the second.
JD had a relatively quiet game but of course scored one and contributed to the other. This is often the way for a top class striker – does little but what he does do is potentially decisive. He’s not a patient man by nature; as the game wore on he was desperate to ram the insults down the throats of the Hammers fans and so resorted to the blasting the ball from further out, but when his moment arrived he kept his head. Also, he did not get himself so wound up that he was in any danger of dismissal as he was against Portsmouth.
Crouch had another of his frustrating days that I fear we are going to have get used to for as long as he plays for us. Seeing plenty of the ball he did not make good use of it and missed chances that would have eased any pressure, playing across the near post ball in the first half being the worst error. He might have been sacrificed for Keane but as the game went into the final quarter he offers the out-ball to ease pressure on the defence. Kranjcar might have come on earlier and his arrival invigorated a jaded midfield. He’s been excellent and was unlucky to be left out, but we are fortunate to be able to bring on someone of his ability. Harry presumably did not want to disrupt the team unnecessarily so Modric stayed on for five or minutes longer than his tiring legs demanded.
Towards the end, Lennon was working back and berated Corluka for not getting tighter to the dangerous Stanilas. Nothing untoward came of this, but that’s not the point. At the start of this season he would not have dared to address his more experienced team mate in this way. Not only that, he was right, showing how his tactical acumen is developing all the time.
So that’s four points and a good Christmas. And four clean sheets in a row, the first such sequence for eight or nine years. By not converting our superiority into goals we made harder work of this victory than was necessary but as soon as JD’s rocket went in, it was clear this was more about my nerves than the performance.
The photo is from the Guardian. I’ve credited it but I’ll take it down if necessary. I’ve used it because it is a great image.