Modern football’s greed and rampant consumerism threatens to drive fans away from the game they love but if any of those departing paused to look back over their shoulder, Harry Winks’ goal celebration on Saturday would melt the hardest of hearts. Janssen’s fierce shot was beaten away by the keeper and up Winks popped to thump the bouncing ball home from close range, whereupon he dashed joyfully to the touchline and into the arms of the manager who had given him his chance.
Nothing rehearsed, no in-jokes but wild youthful exuberance from a player delighted just to be out there, for whom pulling on the white shirt is a privilege. I say youthful but he’s actually 20 but looks younger. Compared with the others, with his fresh face and hair carefully parted, he’s somebody’s young brother who has sneaked into the party. Local boy makes good after manager from halfway round the world reckons he can play. The rest of the side piled in, pleased for him.
And play he can. He’s a fine player, willing to take responsibility, always play the ball forward quickly and has the right weight on his passes. Switched to a more central role in the second half, he shone, playing without fear in a fearsome, frantic derby atmosphere. Highly impressive.
His team-mates celebrated the goal with him but, and let’s fall to earth here, their pleasure was mixed with relief because up until then, Spurs were second best. The first half belonged to Slaven Bilic. His set-up gave West Ham the edge all over the pitch. He had three at the back and two wing-backs in Creswell and Antonio suited for that system, i.e. not converted midfielders, plus one up front. Against that, Pochettino went 4-1-3-2, with Kane and Janssen up front, as opposed to like for like after the success of our three at the back versus Arsenal.
Our strikers were still outnumbered while our full-backs could not get forward. Also the forward three, Dembele, Winks and Eriksen, are all essentially central players, so they drifted in and we had no width. Repeatedly our opponents were first to the ball, no more so than when Antonio picked up a loose ball from a corner to open the scoring. That passage of play – two corners in succession – came after we gave away possession playing it from the back. Kicking the ball long can give it way too but we put unnecessary pressure on ourselves and gave away the initiative.
This was a cracking game for the neutral, full of high-speed attacking football and complete commitment from both sides. The only problem is, I’m not neutral, so enjoyment was to be had only after the final whistle (but that made up for the rest, mind). Four games in one, as Spurs lost it, looked like they would win it, threw it way then improbably but joyously pinched not one goal and a point, which I would have settled for, but two and three respectively.
At half-time I couldn’t see anything changing. Then Winks’ goal changed everything. Never mind the tactics. I enjoy the sophisticated analysis that people like Spurs Fanatic and TTT Tactics do superbly on twitter and on their sites, it’s fascinating. However, nothing compares with scoring a goal. Spurs were rejuvenated, winning tackles all of a sudden and putting some useful passing moves together. Any passing move was an improvement on what had gone before.
Tactics though – yep. Rose was finding a way through on the left. Once more he was outstanding. He’s among the best full-backs in Europe now and if there is a player who has improved his game more in the middle part of his career then I’ve yet to see him. First to the byline for the cross to set up the equaliser then from deeper he found Dier, whose header was well-saved low down but he really should not have given the keeper the chance to get near it.
At this point Spurs had the Hammers rocking, Winks leading from the back, comfortable again in front of the back four, then from a corner Janssen blatantly fouled Reid, penalty. Back on our heels again, no ideas or creativity, ten yard passes had become too much again. Vertonghen’s tackle on Payet was perfect and saved a certain goal, making up for his ineffective marking at the corner that put them one up. Later, when Payet was belatedly a danger, Dier jockeyed him to safety in a manner that suggested he is a centre half born and bred.
Son came on to give us width. Instead he provided tragi-comedy, perhaps the worst, least-impactful 10 minutes possible, running into defenders and kicking it at them at every opportunity. Switched left, transformed. Few minutes left, low cross to Kane, touched in. Unexpected even by the most optimistic and missed by the many who had already left in exasperation.
Son again, on the left, going away from goal then going down after a clumsy tackle. Kane, calm, bottom corner, bedlam. Lost and won then lost, now won, didn’t see that coming, unexpected and all the sweeter for it. A game to savour more on the way home than during the 90 minutes.
My mantra – enjoy it while you can. But while we defended well – Lloris had little to do again – for extended periods we showed little creativity and the tempo was slow. The problems we have had all season in making chances, let alone scoring goals, were evident again and Pochettino was outmanoeuvred in the first half after a fine ‘performance’ last week. But this was Harry’s game – Winks that is. he’ll remember his debut until the day he dies and who knows, in twenty years fans may be saying, ‘Winks, I was there when he made his debut you know…’
So victory in the Lop-sided Derby – their cup final, we’re indifferent. It’s an odd relationship, one which if not unique then can’t be repeated in too many towns and cities across the country. Bilic himself said this was their most important match of the season and I have no doubt they despise us with a passion, but it’s not reciprocated, at least not to the same extent. Derbies have to have a balance of feeling on both sides, surely.
The stadium business cranked up the anger. To me Stratford is W Ham territory, no question, and I don’t blame them, I would get wound up at the very thought of another club muscling onto our patch. 1913 was bad enough…. Again though, it wasn’t reciprocated because most Spurs fans didn’t want to go there and we delighted when we stayed in N17. When in the lead, the Hammers’ fans taunted us with ‘it’s happening again.’ I’m duty bound to ask, what exactly? They won the last match, 1-0 and fully deserved it, in the process forgetting their 4-1 defeat at the Lane and the series of late goals that have given us a point or three in recent times. Kane’s 95th minute penalty rebound winner, Bale’s glorious top-corner winner, Stalteri’s late tap in or Dier’s cultured touch round the keeper. Odd.