It had to be you
The game in a reasonably sized nutshell:
Nabil Bentaleb has an effort saved. Harry Kane then hits the post with an untidy glance of his boot. The opening exchanges are not that shabby and we looked more likely to score (with the aforementioned efforts) until an absolute cluster of calamity at the back. This was made in Tottenham, a throwback to a time when every single game was littered with lackadaisical touch and movement.
Ryan Mason lost the ball and gave away a free-kick. We won back possession only for Mousa Dembele to wonder off like a blind Ronin looking for samurai swords. Are they over here? Are they over there? He ends up gifting back the ball which results in a well worked cross and bullet header for West Ham to take a 1-0 lead. Against the run of play. Deserved simply because their level of professionalism was based around the basics; be good at the simple stuff, be decisive and exact when in possession.
The game at this juncture collapsed with those ominous memories of the past. Not just the calamity but also sloppy, casual football. Simple passing was even poorly delivered from our in-form players. West Ham only had to display spirited endeavour to congest the midfield for us to struggle with anything remotely cohesive. Half time was a God send. Christian Eriksen rested, replaced Dembele. This unfortunately didn't fix anything with immediate influence.
If the first goal was poor the second one was equally brain numbing. Danny Rose with arms up calling for offside (re: player interfering with play) whilst the goal-scorer neatly scored from an acute angle, beating Hugo Lloris for an embarrassing 2-0. The officials might have got this wrong but once more West Ham deserved it simply for seeking to punish us when given the opportunity to do so. Yes, statistically the percentages will show you we owned possession, but if you're got more of the ball only to then lose it and concede it's hardly a relevant positive.
At this point I started to consider the reasons for our brain melt. We rotated in the Europa League yet we've rotated all season long and our fitness is not an issue. We retain a zing to our play most games, just not the ones that follow a Thursday night game. We've lost plenty post-Europa League. Add to it the fact we've got to go to Italy before Sunday's League Cup final and you start to consider that some players are distracted to the point of making our visitors look great.
I'm all for the Tottenham Foundation but having donated three chapters to West Ham United's modern history last season, another one would be generosity too far. Charity is all well and good but how about some self-preservation once in a while? Or even momentum to carry forward into the next two season defining games?
Mark Noble escaped a second yellow card that was deserving of a second yellow but didn't get one perhaps because his first yellow was for a shirt tug. If the ref believes that warrants a yellow then how does one foul dismiss the decision to give a second and then third card? Confused? I hope so because there appears to be a philosophical minefield where leniency is defined based on prior in-game shared indiscretions.
Hugo made a standard world class stop to make sure we didn't fall into the depths of despair with a 3-0 scoreline. Harry Kane scored but was offside so no controversy here. Edging towards the final ten minutes and I realise just how much I hate West Ham fans (as a collective) rather than hating the football team itself (in terms of tradition). The thought of them gloating in the away end. Down the high road home. Shudder.
So how exactly did we manage to avoid defeat?
Ignoring the fact that our players failed to display assured quality and focus, the fact that Big Sam only had to drill his side to get physical in centre midfield, Pochettino failing to galvanise at half-time and arguably our own players failing to react with more oomph...Ignoring all this, the one trait we did retain, what we always retain was the willingness to never say die.
I don't know why Erik Lamela didn't start on the right wing but he looked far better when he was swapped there. It illustrated that non-existent shape which meant fluidity lacked in abundance but at least we kept pushing forward, trying to create something. It came thanks to a quickly taken Lamela corner, accompanied by a one-two with Eriksen. In came the dipping cross, punched away to the feet of Danny Rose who proceeded to mis-kick the ball which found its way into the net because it was mis-kicked.
1-2. Surely not? Why not? This is Spurs and we love a late goal. Roberto Soldado, with the outside of his foot, forced a save but West Ham took the ball forward and I could not see where that little bit of magic was going to come from. Kane was kept quiet for the most part. Everyone else hardly gave credence to hope. Then it happened.
The game was now so very deep into injury time, so deep I thought we'd come across a bunker with a bloated Marlon Brando in the shadows ranting his disapproval. We kept persevering regardless of the clock, fuelled by desperation but doing so with control - passing and moving towards their penalty box. Watch the build up play again and Kane keeps demanding the ball, players buzzing around for it. Okay, so there wasn't anything clever or intricate about it but that wasn't a necessity. Get ball to feet, in the box, and something might happen. It happened.
Song brings down Kane. Ref points to the spot. Apocalyptic scenes. Score now Spurs.
96th minute and Harry takes the pen. Not particularly well, it gets saved but he coolly sends in the rebound. The disappointment of the tempo of the game from our perspective, the entire narrative of the afternoon was almost worth the discomfort just to give the West Ham fans belief that it will 'happen again' only for that other thing to happen again. The one where we break hearts in the dying seconds.
The game didn't feel like a victory. It's two points dropped but that's hardly something to concern ourselves with because at no point did we look or deserve to be winning. For the visitors it will feel like defeat, which I guess is the solitary positive to take away from the game. Little broken hearts all over the away end. We celebrated the fact we didn't lose to this lot rather than embracing the point.
We got away with it.
It's great we have this in our DNA but we've got to be stronger mentally if momentum is something we wish to breed. Sure, the lack of genuine depth of squad and quality in key areas to make rotation more robust is the long running saga of conversation this season. Nothing we can do until the summer. We can't claim that it will cost us this season because surely when you keep changing managers and spend millions on players before doing so, you're not leaving much room for short term improvement thanks to the imbalance it creates.
So I'm left having to simply enjoy the fact we came back from 2-0 down and can now focus on Wembley with that second leg squeezed into our preparation like the missus introducing a sex toy to the bedroom when you've preserved all your energy for a couple of positions.