This game is an almighty kick to the groin for West Ham. Yet again the inability to see off teams has come back and come back agonisingly hard in the form of Gareth Bale’s left peg. It can’t be said that West Ham were sitting pretty at 2-1 in front, but defensive lapses and misfiring forwards opened the way for Spurs to come back into this game. If it weren’t for some sublime keeping from Jussi Jaaskelainen, it could have been worse.
The free kick that led to the equaliser personified West Ham’s lack of maturity in the closing stages. It originally came from the odd decision to substitute Guy Demel, who was doing an OK job despite gifting the ball to Bale for the first goal, for hot headed Pogatetz who in the brief time he was on was being given a torrid time by Lennon after O’Brien had switched to right back. Sigurdsson’s goal was scruffy, but it could have been avoided.
Then came the very dubious decision to substitute the dynamic Mohamed Diame for Jack Collison. While the West Ham faithful are big fans of Collison, at 2-2 and hanging on for the point, Diame is a player that any team would be thankful to have in the effort to secure the draw. The decision was almost immediately capitalised on by Tottenham. Bale easily turned O’Neil, who at this point has nothing left to give neither offensively or defensively, and in the end is left with the opportunity to shoot from long range. He is not closed down, something Diame will always do, and he wins the game with a screamer.
The decision to withdraw Diame brought back memories of the 3-2 home loss to Liverpool earlier in the season. Looking fairly comfortable, Diame had to leave the game due to injury and West Ham capitulated. The role of Diame is pivotal to West Ham’s campaign, as is Mark Noble, who would have had much more of an influence than O’Neil or Collison.
Allardyce chose over January to invest in mainly attacking players. Joe Cole has come back and looks vaguely similar to something representing his past glory. Chamakh has come in for a reason that has escaped football fans in general and disgruntled Carlton Cole. West Ham also brought in Wellington Paulista on loan, but he is yet to make a first team appearance. Although Pogatetz on loan has come in to stabilise the defence, he was being had on toast by the pace of the Spur’s wingers.
While the result is a fantastic one for Tottenham, it leaves West Ham with an unwelcoming reality. They are now very much a part of the relegation battle. While six points from the drop zone is a safe gap right now, a tough run of fixtures is ahead. Some dismal away performances this season have been the main cause of the slide down the table. The next three fixtures read Stoke (a), Man United (h), and then Chelsea (a). Optimists might claim that four points could be achieved from this, but one point might only be the best that can be hoped for.
Teams around the bottom half of the table are now starting to improve. Newcastle picked up a good win against Southampton, who themselves have picked up since the arrival of Pochettino. Wigan got a crucial win at the weekend against Reading, and the Royals have a habit of winning against West Ham. While the core battle remains between QPR, Reading, Wigan and Aston Villa, West Ham will not want to be sucked into the lower echelons of the league.
West Ham will stay up, whether it’s by three points or by nine, but the dip in form has delivered to Allardyce a stark message that his defence will need improving in the summer. Winston Reid deputised as captain when Kevin Nolan went off, and while he has improved tremendously since his dismal first showing in the Premier League two years ago, it is difficult to call him a quality centre half. Next to him is James Collins who is sturdy yet unreliable. Tomkins, McCartney, Demel and O’Brien are all error prone, and their mistakes are swallowed up by Premier League attackers, something which wasn’t punished last season in the Championship.
The one bit of hope that can be taken from the Spurs game is the form of Andy Carroll. His confidently dispatched penalty alongside another impressive performance could lead West Ham to safety. Two more wins may be enough, and Carroll will need to lead the line effectively, despite the loss of his game changing ponytail.