The closing action of Saturday’s London derby between Tottenham and West Ham reminded all of us just how dramatic a game of football can be. The jubilant screams recorded above could very easily have been wails of despair (and even more obscenities) had the result not turned Spurs’ way at the death, and the tone of this post would have been quite different had they not pulled off their miracle comeback. But now that I’ve just about come down from the high of a last-gasp winner over our bitter rivals, I think I’m in a better position to assess what I witnessed for the first 87 minutes or so. And frankly, it really wasn’t pleasant viewing as Spurs labored to put away a team that’s only won on two occasions so far this season.
I’ll get the predictable excuses out of the way upfront. First, we were missing some big players, no doubt. Not having Alderweireld definitely hurt us, as did the absence of Lamela. Second, irrespective of West Ham’s poor prior form, a derby is a derby, and they were always going to be up for it. It was never going to be a “gimme” game.
That said, I have to admit that we came alarmingly close to suffering our first loss of the season on Saturday, and the culprits for our slack performance for 85+ minutes have been dogging us for weeks. The attack, for all their hustle, were again largely ineffective against the Hammers. Out of Kane, who’s just back from an injury, this can be expected; but Janssen has been given a decent run in the team at this point and the sharpness needs to be there. The Dutchman was largely anonymous on the attacking side of things Saturday, and while he definitely worked hard defensively, his main job is to score goals and he’s simply not doing it enough right now. The same criticism of under-performance can be leveled at Christian Eriksen, who continued his goal drought and overall forgettable form by failing to make a major impact on proceedings. It was extremely telling that Harry Winks, a youth prospect being given his first ever league start, provided much more energy, effort, and scoring threat in the middle of the park than his more experienced Danish colleague.
Beyond disappointing individual performances, Spurs also looked short of ideas when in possession as a group. You could tell this team hasn’t won a game in some time, so conservative was their build up play for most of the match. They went behind to a bit of a fluke goal in the first half, and never really fought back before halftime. This was slightly remedied by a strong start to the second half, and the passage of play leading up to and immediately after Winks’ equalizer was the best they’ve produced in a while. But, when West Ham stole the lead back via a soft penalty against Janssen, all the wind looked to have been taken out of the home side’s sails.
At this juncture, it was Pochettino’s ability to change the game with substitutions that turned the result on its head. It’s not quite clear why Heung-Min Son didn’t start, but the South Korean was sure to make up for lost time when he entered the game for Mousa Dembélé. Not only did the lively winger provide the cross for Kane’s first, he also drew the foul for the game-winning penalty. Son’s direct, bursting runs had been sorely missing from Spurs’ attack all afternoon, and surely moving forward he needs to be in the team as much as possible to provide the spark in a sputtering offense.
All said and done, it was great to come back and win a derby in the fashion we did. But a difficult period of fixtures is upon us, with must-win Champions League games against Monaco and Moscow sprinkled in among Premier League away days at Chelsea and Man United. There will be no time for slow starts and apathetic performances. Big players like Eriksen and Kane absolutely have to perform, and a balance needs to be struck between pragmatism and attacking punch in the starting XI. A month ago when we beat City at home, it was hailed as the start of something special for our season. While that turned out to be a false dawn, Saturday’s result doesn’t have to be. The momentum is with us, let’s see what Poch and the boys can do with it.