West Ham Away Will Be A Test Of Character For High-Flying Tottenham
Since the day the then un-disgraced Andy Gray opined on Sky TV that as brilliant as the Barcelona team were, ‘could they do it on a wet, windy night in Stoke?’ football fans with hipster-ish tendencies have used that immortal line as their calling card. And while going to the cesspit that is the Britannia Stadium in bad weather is seen as the perfect example of a tough test in the Premier League, going to Upton Park on a freezing Monday night in front of a set of rabid fans who would love nothing more than to ruin your season isn’t far behind in the difficulty stakes.
That’s the challenge that awaits Tottenham Hotspur to face West Ham. The weather will be bleak, Sam Allardyce will as ever prepare an especially nasty treat for the visitors, and a Spurs team out of form and reliant on individual heroics to salvage draws and wins in recent weeks will need to buck their ideas up if they want to leave East London with three points. It will also be a matchup between the Premiership’s two most annoying goal celebrations, Kevin Nolan’s chicken dance facing a formidable foe in Gareth Bale’s Heart Shaped Thing to the cameras.
Neither side comes into the fixture playing particularly well, but while Spurs have found ways (i.e give the ball to Bale) to walk away from games with valuable points in their push to finish 4th, West Ham have simply not done the same. Eight points in eleven games since a sensational Mohamed Diamé display sparked a 3-1 win at home to Chelsea in early December tells its own story.
Allardyce has at times been unfairly criticised in his career for the long ball philosophy he supposedly preaches, but at times this season West Ham couldn’t have been uglier to watch if he himself sat in the dugout wearing nothing but a frilly dress.
His future at the club is increasingly questionable, with his contract up in the summer, fans growing increasingly frustrated and Sullivan, Gold and Brady Ltd hardly looking keen to keep him at the club. Paolo Di Canio’s availability after his departure from Swindon took away many of the chips Allardyce had at his disposal in the contractual game of poker between himself and the West Ham owners.
Of the problems they have on the pitch at the moment, goalscoring is one of the big ones. Kevin Nolan’s paltry six see him top the goalscorer’s chart, and points were squandered, particularly in the defeat to Reading and home draw to QPR due to poor marksmanship. Andy Carroll’s propensity for nagging injuries is preventing him from making the centre forward’s spot his own and despite the boatload of the strikers they have at the club, they always end up going back to Carlton Cole, who’s a reliable, consistent performer but only in the sense he’s consistently average.
Nolan, for all his experience, contributes little to the side when he isn’t scoring and Diamé’s performances have declined. The defence has looked shaky after an excellent start to the season in which Winston Reid came to the fore. But for all the weaknesses, they are a hardworking team who in Mark Noble, Diamé and others can be a match for anyone. At home especially with a raucous atmosphere under the glare of the Upton Park floodlights, they’ll be a tough nut to crack.
Tottenham come into the game quite possibly still reliving Mousa Dembélé’s stunning last minute strike that saw them qualify for the next round of the Europa League. While they haven’t been at their best since the 1-1 draw with Manchester United at White Hart Lane last month, seven points in three league games and a victory against Lyon over two hard fought legs of football show their newfound ability to win points when not playing well, Bale’s sensational run of six goals in four games being the catalyst for this success.
Bale may have been rather quiet at the Stade Gerland on Thursday night, but was facing a side who after their only goal sat back very deep, denying Bale the space he loves to run into. West Ham at home you’d expect to be more forward thinking and less able to stop him. If they do set out to stop him like many sides have tried to do, Aaron Lennon and new signing Lewis Holtby will have room to exploit.
Since arriving from Schalke in January, Holtby has shown much potential but failed to see that truly materialise into top class performances yet. Some of his touches have been magical, while his eagerness and enthusiasm for the ball at all times is something to warm the cockles of any fan’s heart.
He’s been unlucky too, with many ingenious flicks and through balls just failing to come off, while his tendency to tire in the second half of games (shades of his predecessor in the attacking midfielder role Rafael Van der Vaart) indicates both a slight lack of fitness and him not fully getting used to the pace of play in the Premier League yet. Once he’s done that and got a goal or two under his belt, Tottenham will have a terrific player on their books.
Scott Parker returning to the team where he was Hammer of the Year in 2011 for his superbly defiant displays as the West Ham ship sunk into the Championship under clueless captain Avram Grant will make many headlines. He should expect a good reaction from the Upton Park faithful – perhaps a better one than he’ll get from travelling Spurs fans after his recent performances.
He’s conceded possession far too easily in recent fixtures and also slowed down his team’s electric counter attacks, not being helped by Dembélé, goal against Lyon aside also going off the boil. Sandro, out for the season after sustaining a season ending injury at Loftus Road, has been sorely missed.
The whole Spurs team will need to improve if they are to win on Monday night. As impressive as their late goals and comebacks have been, they can’t keep on relying on heroics for the rest of the season if they want to finish in the top four, while the striker position continues to be problematic. Jermain Defoe is out of form and injured and Emmanuel Adebayor looks increasingly uninterested and unmotivated.
Defensively, they will be prepared for the bombardment they’ll receive. West Ham keep the ball in the penalty area better than perhaps any side in the league. Hugo Lloris though has been in fine form recently, his command of the area being especially impressive. A good performance from him may well snuff out the Hammers’ aerial threat.
The whole match could be a great occasion. There is plenty of bitterness between the two sets of fans, with West Ham’s anti-Semitic chants and actions in the fixture at White Hart Lane earlier this season nothing short of a disgrace. But a Monday night game, under the lights, in front of the cameras, with two teams who are in their own way attacking outfits, will hopefully see such behaviour disappear and an action packed, cracking game of football take place.