Tottenham’s opener was simply the result of criminal West Ham defending. Guy Demel, returning to Sam Allardyce’s starting line-up after a two-game absence, struck a loose pass to Gareth Bale on the edge of Jussi Jääskeläinen’s area. James Collins and Winston Reid were slow to approach the winger, who struck a low, fizzing effort past the Hammers goalkeeper. The Wales international was a thorn in West Ham’s side throughout, with an outstanding free-kick attempt on the stroke of half-time which viciously dipped inches over the crossbar. The 23-year-old had two further attempts which struggled to test Jääskeläinen but the Finn had to be at his best to parry clear Bale’s ingenious flick from close range. With the scores tied at 2-2, Spurs appeared to have settled for a point but the former Southampton youth graduate was still hungry and unleashed a powerful left-footed shot which curled out of Jääskeläinen’s reach. It was a clinical strike befitting a player who has scored his side’s last six goals in the Premier League, beating a record jointly set by Teddy Sheringham (1993-94) and Frédéric Kanouté (2003-04). If Robin van Persie is the difference in the title race, Bale is surely proving to be the decisive factor between Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs, who are now third.
André Villas-Boas fielded a tall back-line to temper West Ham’s danger from set-pieces and it worked a treat for the young manager as he out-foxed a Premier League veteran. The Hammers rarely threatened from their own set-pieces, uncharacteristically for a Allardyce side, while it was the visitors who were denied by desperate defending until Gylfi Sigurdsson’s 76th-minute strike. Bale consistently delivered deliciously dipping corners throughout to test a static West Ham defence as Steven Caulker, who has scored twice this season, was denied three times by goal-line clearances, making the most of poor man-marking. It took a timely Gary O’Neill header to deny the centre-half in the first half before two sharp Jääskeläinen saves prevented the England international from netting. How West Ham could have done with a Bobby Moore to handle Bale’s dangerous corners and organise a defence in disarray, and it was no surprise the winger conjured a free-kick which finally unravelled the home side’s rear guard. His delivery wide on the right was headed clear by Joey O’Brien, but only onto the retreating James Collins, with Sigurdsson netting the rebound.
With England manager Roy Hodgson in attendance, it was a big night for Kyle Walker, who has been solid, if unspectacular, in his second season as a regular in Tottenham’s first-team. It was an ideal opportunity for Hodgson to judge Walker, who is challenging Liverpool’s Glen Johnson for the Three Lions right-back berth, as the Spurs man faced up against Matt Jarvis. The West Ham winger has delivered more crosses and corners without assisting a league goal than any other player this season – an indictment on West Ham’s wasteful striikers. Walker was nervy in the early stages and was almost caught in possession, having to dodge two Hammers players while retreating into Hugo Lloris’ area. And the attacking full-back caught out of position as a Tottenham attack fizzled out moment later, Jarvis fronted a near-devastating West Ham counter, drawing a reaction save from Lloris in the 11th minute. With half-time approaching, Jarvis, capped once under Fabio Capello, tested Walker’s decision-making skills again when he left his right wing position and ran across the pitch to meet Joe Cole’s chipped pass. Walker opted against attempting to play the offside trap, using his pace to recover and track the midfielder, producing a full-stretch block. Walker bears many similarities to Johnson: both are lauded for their attacking qualities but questions remain about their defensive temperament. So for the Spurs youngster, an assured performance against one of the league’s more difficult customers will have done his chances of securing an England place no harm.
On the night which paid tribute to England’s and West Ham’s greatest-ever centre-half Bobby Moore, it was fitting that a Hammers youth graduate got on the score-sheet for Allardyce’s side. However, it was the 31-year-old’s former Liverpool team-mate Andy Carroll who opened the scoring with an emphatic penalty after Scott Parker had fouled the England international in the 25th minute. Cole has started just three Premier League games since completing his return to Upton Park but Allardyce handed the playmaker the chance to impress on an emotional night at Upton Park. While struggling to make a real impact from the right wing as he came up against Jan Vertonghen, Cole punished the former Ajax captain for his one error. Unlike Walker, when a diagonal ball was played beyond the Spurs defence, Vertonghen haphazardly attempted to play offside but was too late in stepping up, leaving Cole to finish past Lloris. It was a clinical strike more akin to that of his Chelsea days, helping to consign a disastrous spell at Anfield to the back of his mind. Cole is growing in confidence which will full Allardyce with hope that the midfielder can become a key Hammers player.
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