Those West Ham bubbles, blown so vigorously in victory over Portsmouth on Saturday, looked fragile things 48 hours later, as did so many of Gianfranco Zola's players. Two of them, Scott Parker and Herita Ilunga, had to be substituted in the first 20 minutes, Parker's injury contributing to the opening goal by Luka Modric.
It was ridiculous that the visitors theoretically stayed in with a chance for the next 70 minutes until Jermain Defoe, as he so often does, scored against one of his former clubs. The win lifted Tottenham into fourth place in the Premier League, at least until two of the other contenders for that spot, Aston Villa and Liverpool, meet this evening . At the same time Bolton Wanderers will be playing Hull City, and only a draw there will prevent West Ham sinking back into the bottom three. Lacking their main striker in Carlton Cole, they carried no threat in attack and the Spurs captain, Ledley King, was able to stroll through his first start in nine games.
King's return was one of four Tottenham changes from their draw at Fulham and it was significant that Defoe and Tom Huddlestone, who were also brought back in, were among the best performers. In contrast, the effort demanded of several West Ham players in a crucial game at the weekend seemed to cost them, Zola having made only one change, enforced by injury to Mark Noble.
Parker, his box-to-box running a key feature of West Ham's game, pulled a hamstring attempting one of his team's two efforts on goal in the first half. Hobbling back, Parker was unable to stay with Modric, who began a move deep in his own half and was unmarked when he arrived to meet a cross by the excellent Aaron Lennon, hitting it down into the ground and up over the diving Robert Green. Only a few minutes later the left-back Herita Ilunga also had to be replaced. He was originally assumed to be suffering from dizziness caused by Lennon's pace and trickery but turned out to be another hamstring victim.
For the second half, Parker's replacement, Luis Jimenez, was pushed further forward as a second striker but even two were insufficient against the imperious King and Michael Dawson. Fierce drives by Wilson Palacios and Huddlestone hit Matthew Upson and the inside of a post respectively, and it was hardly a surprising development when Tottenham broke quickly on the counter, Lennon feeding Defoe, whose first shot almost knocked Green off his feet, the rebound threatening similar damage to the back of the net.
Heurelho Gomes's save from Alessandro Diamanti near the end ensured a fourth successive Spurs clean sheet – for the first time since 2001 – giving added satisfaction to their manager, Harry Redknapp, at the end of a pleasing year. Zola's assertion that he was "delighted with the performance" suggested either that he is easily pleased or that he is keen to boost morale ahead of an FA Cup tie with Arsenal and three league games against fellow relegation candidates.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Gomes; Corluka, Dawson, King, Assou-Ekotto (Bale, 87); Lennon (Jenas, 89), Palacios, Huddlestone, Modric (Kranjcar, 82); Defoe, Crouch. Substitutes not used: Alnwick (gk), Hutton, Keane, Bassong.
West Ham United (4-4-1-1): Green; Faubert, Tomkins, Upson, Ilunga (Spector, 19); Collison (Stanislas, 78), Kovac, Parker (Jimenez, 12), Behrami; Diamanti; Franco. Substitutes not used: Stech (gk), Da Costa, Payne, Nouble.
Referee: C Foy (Merseyside).
Booked: Tottenham Hotspur Corluka, Defoe; West Ham United Franco, Diamanti, Kovac.
Man of the match: Lennon.