Spurs 3 West Ham 3 - Mourinho gets Spursy
Over the years, 3-0 leads at half time have not been kind to Spurs. In 2004, in an FA Cup tie, Spurs were 3-0 up at home against a pre Big Oil Money Manchester City at half-time. By then, City already had star striker Nicolas Anelka off injured and to make things more difficult, their midfielder Joey Barton was sent off at half-time. And yet, somehow, City came back to win the match 4-3, making it one of the biggest fairy tales in FA Cup history.
Of course, that was the second time it had happened in quick succession. Just three years earlier, also at White Hart Lane, Spurs suffered the ignominy of letting Manchester United come back from a 3-0 half-time deficit to win 5-3.
It was performances like that which built up the Spursy reputation for Tottenham, together with the now famous Sir Alex Ferguson team talk of “Lads, it’s Tottenham”.
Pundits and hardcore Spurs fans will tell you that Mauricio Pochettino’s era finally did away with the Spursy tag, but if we’re really honest with ourselves, the fear of it coming back has never really gone away.
It’s probably why Jose Mourinho famously told his Spurs side that they cannot be nice guys on the pitch. Okay, he was a lot more vulgar, but there are children reading this (I think).
It is therefore somewhat ironic that with Spurs leading 3-0 at home to West Ham last night, and no Hammer fight in sight, it was Mourinho himself that fell prey to Spursiness.
WATCH: Mourinho reacts to Spurs' 3-3 draw with West Ham
See, the game was done and dusted. For all their huff and puff, for the bulk of 70 minutes, Spurs had efficiently shut down any West Ham attack and played a sensible counter-attacking game. All they needed to do was to be disciplined, track every runner and cut off their passes, as well as hold onto the ball as long as possible, which they were generally able to do.
And then, inexplicably, Mourinho gave in to sentiment and brought on Gareth Bale for a hard-running Steven Bergwijn. Now, of course any fanboy would have wanted to see the return of the prodigal son, and for 2 weeks, the prospect of Son Heung Min, Harry Kane and Bale as Spurs’ front three was more appealing than dating all four members of Blackpink at once.
But it was a sign that he thought the game was won, and that it was time for a little show for the fans. Bale had hardly played for a year and recently got injured, and to be honest, if Bergwijn was tiring, the logical choice to replace him was the equally hard-running Lucas Moura. Bringing Bale on was a Spursy decision that was exciting, but at the expense of giving up defensive discipline. Bale looked a shadow of his best, and often didn’t press like his teammates did.
WATCH: Gareth Bale's best goals for Spurs
Yes, it was heart pounding to see him shimmy past a couple of challenges and almost finish off an amazing solo run, but by and large, the defending down the right left right-back Serge Aurier somewhat isolated, something which Spurs really didn’t need at that point in time.
Coupled with the tactical mistake of removing Tanguy Ndombele for Harry Winks, Spurs started to lose the midfield battle. There may be a general perception that Winks is the more defensive of the two and so what Mourinho did was to shore up the midfield, but Ndombele was one of the night’s best players, and the only one who truly had the skills to hold onto the ball despite pressure. Not to mention, Ndombele was up and down the park doing his defensive duties as well.
So it’s no surprise that two of West Ham’s three goals came from Bale’s side, both via free kicks from the left where fouls were committed due to being overwhelmed on that flank. And sadly, it was Winks’ poor touch that allowed Manuel Lanzini to power home a phenomenal equaliser.
Honestly, as much as one should give credit to West Ham for not giving up, this tells us that Spurs’ Spursiness is not yet a thing of the past. And in fact, it might be infecting Mourinho.
That doesn’t take away the fact that for 80 minutes, Spurs were magnificent. They should have had two or three more, but there were hardly any signs that Hammers would get one, much less three, so until the changes were made, one did think three was enough.
Mourinho said after the game, that’s football. Well yes, Spurs definitely aren’t the only ones this weekend that showed such signs of weakness (hello Chelsea fans!), but unfortunately, we’re the only ones where our weakness has a name.
Here are the main highlights of the game.
Line up: Sensible line-up from Mourinho. Would have preferred Matt Doherty to Serge Aurier, but the Irishman played all three of Ireland’s internationals, so resting him was probably the right call. Dele Alli is still missing, but Bale’s on the bench, so hearts are fluttering.
1st min: GOAL! Kane and Son strikes again
Kane and Son are tearing defences up at will. Playing deep once more, Kane lobs a long ball towards Son behind the defence, the Korean cuts inside and curls it round Lukasz Fabianski. It’s too easy.
8th min: GOAL! Son returns the favour!
Son passes to Kane at the edge of the box. There’s still a bit for the England man to do, but he beautifully nutmegs his marker and fires it into the near post. West Ham being undone by the Kane Son show.
16th min: GOAL! It’s so easy it’s ridiculous
Son finds an overlapping Sergio Reguilon on the left and he sends a pinpoint cross for Kane to head home. 3-0 and it’s time to close shop and sail home.
35th min: Almost a fantastic four
In an almost replica of the Aurier Son combination against Man United, Aurier sends in a low hard cross from the right which just misses a sliding Son. A fourth would not be harsh at this stage.
AND NOTHING HAPPENS ALL THE WAY TO THE 72nd MINUTE.
And the fateful subs happen. Bale for Bergwijn, and Winks for Ndombele.
73rd min: Bale tries to cap a fairytale debut by taking a free kick with his first touch
Hearts flutter, but it goes straight to Fabianski. Oh well, it was a nice dream.
79th min: The upright denies Kane
Another brilliant combination of Son down the left laying the ball to Kane, whose left footed shot leaves Fabianski rooted but just clips the upright. That should have been game over.
82nd min: GOAL! It’s a consolation, surely.
Aaron Cresswell sends in a free kick from the left, it evades Davinson Sanchez and Fabian Balbuena outjumps Moussa Sissoko and impossibly twists his body to head it home. Okay, calm down, it’s just a minor blip.
85th min: GOAL! OH, COME ON!
Ridiculous defending from Sanchez. The cross is whipped in from the right and he should be planting his head firmly into it to play it behind for a corner. Instead, he flicks the cross with his head and accurately diverts it into his own net. The Spursy calls can be heard despite an empty stadium.
92nd min: Bale shows why he’s still class
Ok, despite his obvious lack of fitness, Bale still shows why he’s world class. Kane finds Bale on the right and Welsh wizard shimmies left and right and leaves his markers for dead, but somehow shoots wide with Fabianski standing still. That should have settled nerves.
94th min: GOAL! Ridiculous.
A free kick from Cresswell again is headed clear, but it drops to Winks outside the box whose touch was so loose that it probably has a place in Geylang. The loose ball falls to Lanzini, who whips home the goal of his career from outside the box.
A few years ago, I was in a pub in Prague watching West Ham play Spurs in the season where Spurs were chasing Chelsea for the title. That game was one Spurs had to win, or the title would go to Chelsea. West Ham, of course, won it 1-0. What I didn’t know was that the whole pub was full of not Spurs fans, who went on to sing in one voice “Tottenham f***ed it up”.
Yes we did, and to a familiar foe yet again.
Mourinho, despite the brilliant transfer window, really does have a lot of work to do to stamp out the Spursiness. And the first person he has to stamp it out from is himself.