Somehow, West Ham are the team holding their nerve in the race to qualify for the Champions League. They saw Chelsea and Liverpool drop points and responded with grit, togetherness and incredible desire to grab fourth place with this precious win. Although Son Heung-min almost scored a fluke equaliser in added time, West Ham earned their good fortune. They were clinical when chances arrived and dogged in the face of relentless pressure from Tottenham, who were far more potent once Gareth Bale decided it was time to show that his career is far from over.
It was Bale who led the charge during the second half, seizing the initiative as Spurs tried to rescue a point after falling behind to goals from Michail Antonio and Jesse Lingard. The winger pushed West Ham’s defenders to the limit after his introduction at half-time, creating Lucas Moura’s goal before smacking the bar. Gone was the unfit player who has barely looked interested since returning to Spurs on loan; this was vintage Bale, tormenting defenders with his winding runs and wand of a left foot, proving the gifts that helped the 31-year-old win four Champions League titles with Real Madrid still lurk within.
The mind drifted back to Bale in his first spell at Spurs, scoring a stunning last-minute winner against West Ham in 2013. Yet this West Ham side are different from previous, softer versions. They were prepared to suffer. David Moyes has instilled a ferocious work ethic and when the final whistle blew, Vladimir Coufal fell to the turf, the right-back’s exhaustion typifying a demented effort from West Ham, whose players can be forgiven if they spend the next few days humming the Champions League anthem.
There is still a long way to go and West Ham’s stamina will be tested in their final 13 games. Yet they cannot be written off after rising nine points above Spurs, who are languishing in ninth place after winning three of their previous 13 games.
West Ham looked hungrier than José Mourinho’s side. Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek set the tone by imposing themselves in midfield, while the return of Antonio after a hamstring injury offered West Ham a focal point in attack, giving the busy trio of Pablo Fornals, Jarrod Bowen and Lingard space to scheme.
Antonio bullied Davinson Sánchez and Eric Dier at times and there was more to his game than work rate. He needed only five minutes to give West Ham the lead and expose the frailties in Tottenham’s defence.
At least Mourinho scented danger when Coufal charged down the right, urging Sergio Reguilón to stop the cross. Spurs were being pushed around and Soucek was alert when the ball broke loose, nipping in to find Bowen, whose cross found the visiting defence in disarray. Nobody wanted to deal with it, leaving Antonio free to score at the second attempt after Hugo Lloris saved his initial effort.
It was a dreadful goal to concede and West Ham could have extended their advantage. They kept finding space in the wide areas, with Japhet Tanganga struggling at right-back before being replaced by Matt Doherty at half-time. Bowen and Lingard wasted promising opportunities and Lloris pushed a Craig Dawson header over.
As the game wore on, though, Spurs began to dominate. Harry Kane went close, firing wide following a surge by Erik Lamela, and West Ham endured a sticky spell when Soucek went off for seven minutes to have a bloody wound stitched up after clashing heads with Tanganga. Yet Spurs still toiled, offering little until Kane drew a good save from Lukasz Fabianski.
It was ponderous from the visitors and although Mourinho made changes at half-time, there was barely time for Bale to have a touch before West Ham doubled their lead. Antonio was involved, holding up a long ball. Spurs just gawped again. Lingard took charge, controlling with a knee before speeding past Dier, and the offside Fornals stood aside as the midfielder lashed a brilliant shot past Lloris. Although the flag went up for offside, Lingard’s third goal since joining on loan from Manchester United stood when a VAR review confirmed that Fornals had not interfered with play.
Spurs had two options at that stage: wilt or respond. They chose the latter. Bale came alive, running at Aaron Cresswell. His dynamism gave his side hope and he conjured an assist in the 64th minute, whipping in a corner for Moura to head past Fabianski.
West Ham grew edgy, sinking back. Kane fired inches wide before being released by Bale. A goal looked inevitable until Rice saved West Ham, who escaped again when Bale hit the bar from 18 yards.
On came Dele Alli, another with something to prove, and West Ham survived again when Coufal’s clearance deflected off Son before hitting a post. Spurs had done everything but score. West Ham’s celebrations could begin.