James Maddison's visible frustration underlines Tottenham star's stuttering spell

James Maddison's visible frustration underlines Tottenham star's stuttering spell

Continuing frustration in east London for Tottenham, who are now looking at five years without a win at West Ham, and a more acute variety for James Maddison, their fizzy playmaker gone flat.

It is now a full two months since Maddison returned from ankle ligament damage and still he is yet to rediscover the thrilling early season form that made him an instant Spurs hit, the strain of that struggle now becoming visible on the pitch.

This ought to have been a game tailor-made for Maddison, with West Ham’s midfield vulnerability without the suspended Edson Alvarez well-documented and David Moyes’s side conceding goals for fun. When Brennan Johnson put the visitors ahead inside five minutes, it looked set to be more of the same.

Instead, though, Kurt Zouma equalised midway through the first half and, from there, Spurs toiled, enjoying a hefty 68 per cent of the possession but seldom crafting anything clear-cut.

Maddison, in theory the craftiest of them all, endured a night defined by the flailing of arms more than incisive passes or clever flicks, his irritation at himself, team-mates and West Ham’s rough treatment plain to see.

James Maddison has not hit top form for Spurs of late (John Walton/PA Wire)
James Maddison has not hit top form for Spurs of late (John Walton/PA Wire)

Eventually, for the second game in a row, Ange Postecoglou withdrew perhaps his most creative footballer with his side chasing a winning goal. Unlike in Saturday’s triumph over Luton, it never came.

Postecoglou confirmed afterwards that, as against the Hatters, the substitution was tactical and that Maddison is not carrying a knock. He insisted, too, that he was satisfied with the 27-year-old’s display, pointing at others in the final third failing to make best use of his guile.

“I thought he played some really clever passes that we just didn’t capitalise on,” the Australian said. “I think for all the guys in the front third area — not just the attacking players, the full-backs as well, we got into some really good areas, it’s just about trying to show them that they don’t need to be so rushed in their decision making and we’ll get better outcomes.”

At his best, though, Maddison is the player who makes Spurs tick, as he showed when starting his career with nine goal involvements in 10 unbeaten league matches, only to suffer ankle ligament damage in the 11th, November’s 4-1 defeat to Chelsea.

He may well be a victim of the lack of rhythm in Spurs’s schedule since his return and after Sunday’s meeting with Nottingham Forest, they play just once in 20 days heading into the north London derby.

Postecoglou appears certain to stick with Maddison for the visit of Forest, but with Dejan Kulusevski and Giovani Lo Celso outside the XI, the Spurs boss is not without options off the bench.

England boss Gareth Southgate, too, will be watching with interest, Maddison having made a bright impact in setting up Jude Bellingham’s late leveller in the recent friendly against Belgium, but not backed to start either that game or the defeat to Brazil.

For West Ham, meanwhile, only 24 hours after David Moyes had called for the leaders in his squad to step up, it was his captain, Zouma, who rose highest. It was in some ways fitting that the Frenchman’s goal was not your typical, towering, statement header to level the affair. He has not, after all, always looked the natural successor to his totemic predecessors in Declan Rice and Mark Noble.

Instead, he leapt to meet Jarrod Bowen’s 19th-minute corner and ended up glancing home unconventionally off his back. It was a big goal for the skipper on a special night, with close friend Paul Pogba watching on in the stands.

At the other end, Zouma led a much-improved defensive show as Spurs were stifled, their first glaring chance after the opener not coming until the chaotic final throes, when a loose ball dropped to Destiny Udogie, only for the full-back to guide it straight at Lukasz Fabianski. West Ham, by then, would have led had Michail Antonio not been guilty of doing likewise when one-on-one with Guglielmo Vicario in the opposite box.

“We were much more aggressive, much more resilient defensively,” Moyes said. “Overall, if you’re giving me four points off Spurs before the season started, I’d have shook your hand, walked away and said, ‘Thanks very much’.”