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  • Julian Taylor at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

Searching questions for Moyes and fading Hammers after disappointing defeat at Tottenham



Julian Taylor at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium


North London bore witness to the first signs of spring sunshine, glistening from the famous golden cockerel sitting aloft the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. And with absent boss Antonio Conte on text message duties to the Spurs bench from his convalescence, quality eventually told on a largely flat derby.

There was some hope from West Ham’s perspective that they could jaunt across the capital and perhaps grab a draw, despite manager David Moyes’ pre-match assertions of needing to convert wins from the stalemates of late.

If The Hammers had a bright twenty minute spell at the start of the game, they faded badly, and ominously, once Tottenham found their drive, focus and athleticism to ultimately earn a deserved 2-0 triumph.


Other than a single shot on target close to the hour mark from Jarrod Bowen which was saved by Spurs keeper Fraser Forster, West Ham’s attack was utterly listless. Forward Mikel Antonio lingered on the margins and there was simply a lack of joined up thinking. Declan Rice, on the other hand, put in a power of work and organisation from his deep lying role as usual but, in the wake of this slump, you were left with the impression that some of his team mates are clearly not on the skippers’ wavelength.


Perilous


This is, of course, likely to cause quite a bit of frustration, with some apparently not up for the task of hauling the club out of a growing, perilous position. Disappointing? Yes, but not surprising for the Hammers, who could not emulate their levels from the recent 1-1 draw with Chelsea.

“We were in it in the first half but in the second half when we went one down you could see the position we were in", Rice admitted afterwards.


“Last year we were so good but now it’s all about what we do. We’re not bothered about what other teams do, it’s about what we do.”

West Ham needed to score first, in truth, to give themselves a chance - but the lack of landing any telling blow before Tottenham went ahead thanks to a well-placed shot by Emerson Royal in 56 minutes meant that this was going to be one game about to quickly run away from them.


The worry for Moyes now is that confidence could potentially ebb away as this squad, for all its individual talents, such as Antonio, Rice, Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal. West Ham must realise they are officially engrossed in a relegation battle, with Bournemouth, in particular.


The Hammers are currently third bottom of the Premier League with only Leeds United and Southampton below them. And without a Premier League win since 21 January when they defeated Everton, they should, arguably, look at how another side, Nottingham Forest, have managed to stealthily pull away from excessive danger.


Testing


Life as Hammers boss is currently testing for Moyes, where goals are drying up. With only 19 goals from 23 league games it isn't hard to see where the fundamental issue lies. The recent recruitment of Danny Ings may at least help address this.


“We started the second half poorly and gave Tottenham the encouragement they needed," said Moyes. "Defensive lapses probably made the difference. We were poor, despite having a good start to the game.


“We were much more open and gave Tottenham a chance to play through us in the second half. I’m trying to find ways of getting more goals. We’ve brought Danny Ings in (from January) and we hope he is going to get some goals for us. We are definitely missing in that area."


These are the unglamorous objectives for Moyes, when just last season West Ham reached the Europa League semi-final. However it is all about survival now we have entered the second half of 2022/23. Granted, the east Londoners are still in the FA Cup where they will face a trip to Manchester United, but the priority is stark.


Tottenham’s energy levels were superior and they could call on Heung-Min Son off the bench to slot home the second goal. That officially killed the derby which, overall, failed to capture the imagination. The three points were predictably well-received by the vast majority of the 61,476 in the stadium.


They will also, doubtless, please head coach Conte as he recovers from gall bladder surgery, with the Lilywhites being coached on the side lines by Cristian Stellini. The Italian admitted it was a “difficult” first half but paid tribute to the hard work ‘in the pocket’ by Kane, Tottenham's spearhead and illustrious number ten.


Garlanded


More vitally – and concerning for West Ham – was that the work rate on a day which lacked consistent fluency from both teams, was better from the hosts, with Kane tracking back and doing the due diligence whenever appropriate. The Spurs skipper was treated to a vast ‘Harry’ mosaic behind the goal before kick off, in tribute to his recent, garlanded status as the club’s all-time record scorer. Surpassing the feats of the great Jimmy Greaves is a tumultuous feat, but Kane is also a player who understands the importance of doing the hard yards and leading by quiet, visible example.


Pierre-Emile Hojberg’s defence-splitting pass, meanwhile, to set up Royal was one of the obvious sublime moments, with Tottenham now sitting keenly in fourth place. This performance fell well short of vintage in relation to calibre, but Spurs’ perseverance after a laboured start eventually paid off.

The Lilywhites are in the midst of a busy schedule. Still in the FA Cup, with a trip to come at Sheffield United in the fifth round, preceded by a London derby against crisis club Chelsea at home which, on current form, they will also expect to win. A Champions League return tie against AC Milan in north London, facing a single goal deficit, can also be recovered, with Euro promise very much alive.


Stellini is steadying matters in the absence of Conte - and the Tottenham fans departed their space age stadium in pretty high spirits. But in this world, it is Moyes and the Hammers who now have to ask themselves some searching questions.

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