It was not a performance to win any beauty contests, nor one to appease those who see David Moyes’s style of football as a hindrance to progress. One suspects though, that this evening, they will be among a quiet minority.
On a sodden night in north London, in a game in which they might easily have been hammered out of sight before half-time, West Ham did what on such occasions they somehow often seem to do, finding a way to stay alive and then, from nowhere, a counter-punch of their own, to land a 2-1 triumph that, remarkably, takes Moyes’s men within three points of Ange Postecoglou’s much-heralded Tottenham side.
As is customary on the road, Jarrod Bowen came up trumps, the forward thrashing home for a seventh consecutive away game in the Premier League this season to level the scores after Cristian Romero had headed Spurs into a deserved first-half lead.
Bowen pounced on some good fortune, Mohammed Kudus’s strike ricocheting through two bodies and falling kindly, but had earned his luck with some wonderful hold-up play to keep Romero at bay.
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Better still was to come, though, James Ward-Prowse capitalising on Destiny Udogie’s error and Guglielmo Vicario’s weak clearance to first fire low against the post and then react fastest as the ball broke back to him with the net unguarded to complete a remarkable turnaround, in what at one stage had looked a contest with the potential to turn ugly for the Irons.
For ten minutes out of the gate, they were swamped and, seemingly, stunned, unable to live with the home side’s intensity and ambition in a dazzling passage that ended with Romero’s looping header putting Spurs ahead. To say, so early in a game, it was the least they deserved might sound over the top, but it was no exaggeration here.
By half-time, the hosts had had 13 shots, seen a cross deflected onto the woodwork and held more than three-quarters of the possession. True, West Ham are often at their most dangerous without the ball, sat in ready to spring from deep, and some of their best performances of the season have come playing almost exclusively on the break. This, though, was not entirely rope-a-dope stuff, Moyes visibly furious at his team’s inability to earn themselves a breather in the form of a foothold up the pitch.
And yet, the Scot’s greatest frustration at half-time may well have been that his side weren’t level. Tottenham’s high line had been supremely drilled, thrice ending promising counters by virtue of the linesman’s flag, but a fourth break in behind had seen Mohammed Kudus hold off Ben Davies and whip to the back post for Lucas Paqueta. An awkward height between head and torso, it was almost calling out for the kind of acrobatic finish the Brazilian is capable of in his sleep, but on an off-night, he headed tamely wide.
The Moyes gamble in these games usually relies not merely on defensive defiance, but also on good fortune and a clinical touch, and such a miss might easily have proved costly. Instead, this was vindication once more for Moyes and a side still coursing with their old resilience.