Unlikely things happen in derbies and yesterday afternoon West Ham United produced the greatest triumph of strikerless football since the final of Euro 2012.
There will be few more surprising results all season, very few goals better than Ravel Morrison’s “genius” third, and hardly any more comprehensive victories for one manager over another. This was one of the great days of Sam Allardyce’s tenure at West Ham, and a dismal one for Andre Villas-Boas.
Tottenham were utterly neutralised by West Ham’s inventive system. This was not quite Vicente del Bosque’s Spain, who beat Italy 4-0 with six midfielders last summer, or Luciano Spalletti’s Roma, but it was the right approach to win the match, which is precisely what it did.
West Ham started with a 4-6-0, shutting down Spurs in the middle and denying them space. They limited the home side to half-chances before scoring three times in 13 second-half minutes – once from a corner and twice on the break. Once 3-0 up, West Ham switched to 5-5-0 and shut down the game.
“We took the No 9 out, with interchanging runners from wide midfield,” Allardyce explained. “We hoped it would bring us more success in terms of creating chances and converting them, so [Michael] Dawson and [Jan] Vertonghen were not playing against the same men all the time.”
“Our tactics paid off today. It is my job to sit and think ‘what I can do to the players to give them a lift, to get a result?’ Having explained it to them, and showed what Tottenham do, we worked at it visually and tactically on the field for three days and the belief grew in the team. It was one of those big risks you take, but I thought ‘if Jose Mourinho does it at Manchester United then so can I.’”
With a packed midfield there was no space for Christian Eriksen or Gylfi Sigurdsson to create in, with Kevin Nolan and Mark Noble blocking off all avenues. West Ham’s back four – led by the monumental Winston Reid, the most underrated defender in the division– allowed no room behind them for Jermain Defoe. In a tight and even first half, the closest Spurs came to scoring were shots from the edge of the box, a comfortable save from a Sigurdsson effort and one that Paulinho skewed wide.
It was a noisy derby atmosphere, with many Spurs fans defiant in their use of their use of the word “Yid”, for which one was arrested at half-time, with some West Ham supporters rather revelling in the issue.
The start of the second half, before the visitors had settled, was Spurs’ best spell. Defoe forced two good saves from Jussi Jaaskelainen, one from close range, the other from the edge of the box, and had Spurs scored then it would have been a different game. Villas- Boas insisted afterwards he had not been surprised by West Ham’s approach but admitted the defeat was a “wake-up call”.
Spurs did not score when on top, though and 21 minutes into the second half, West Ham took the lead. Reid headed Stewart Downing’s corner towards goal, where it hit Nolan, but fell back to Reid who finished briskly.
Spurs, chasing the game, started to throw men forward and within the next 13 minutes West Ham scored twice more on the counter-attack. First Noble won the ball in midfield and slid it through to Ricardo Vaz Te running behind Kyle Walker. His shot was blocked by Hugo Lloris but it rebounded back onto Vaz Te and ricocheted into the net.
With Erik Lamela and Roberto Soldado on, there was even more space and with 11 minutes left Morrison ended the game. Taking the ball in his own half, running with his wonderful balance, he shimmied past Vertonghen, darted beyond Dawson, holding off two men twice his size. Lloris charged off his line and Morrison dinked the ball over him, the chip perfectly judged so it rolled over the line before Kyle Naughton could hack it away.
“It was a genius goal,” said Allardyce. “You will struggle to see a better goal than that this season. He headed straight for Vertonghen and Dawson, slips them like they’re not there, then uses outstanding ability to dink Lloris.”
There was a fear when Morrison left Manchester United to join West Ham last year that he might never make it. Allardyce revealed that Sir Alex Ferguson had sold him Morrison “for Ravel’s benefit” and advised him it was a risk worth taking.
“He said ‘I hope you can sort him out because if you can he’ll be a genius, but he needs to get away from Manchester and start a new life. But if you do get the best out of him you will have a great player on your hands.’”
West Ham are far away from getting the best out of Morrison – this was just his fourth Premier League start – but this was the brightest glimmer yet of just what he might be able to achieve. “The penny’s dropped, in his lifestyle, his attitude and his timekeeping. He doesn’t want to do anything other than try and break into our first team. The loan spell at Birmingham City gave him time to reflect on what it takes, he has learnt from that experience and listened to what we’ve told him.”
“We talk to our players about getting the ball to him in space as much as we possibly can at the moment.”
That was just what West Ham did. Spurs’ talented players – Eriksen, Sigurdsson and Lamela – never got a sniff.
Tottenham (4-2-3-1) Lloris 5; Walker 5, Dawson 4, Vertonghen 5, Naughton 5 (Holtby, 81); Dembele 5, Paulinho 6; Townsend 6, Eriksen 5 (Soldado 74), Sigurdsson 5 (Lamela 63, 5); Defoe 6
West Ham (4-6-0) Jaaskelainen 7; Demel 7, Tomkins 6, Reid 8, Rat 7; Downing 5, Diame 7 (Collins 80), Morrison 8, Nolan 7, Noble 7 (O’Brien 90), Vaz Te 6 (J Cole 86)
Match rating: 7
Man of the match: Reid
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