LONDON -- Given the hope that Ange Postecoglu kindled in his first months in English football, a run of one point from five Premier League games might feel like a hammer blow for Tottenham. It should not. In an exhilarating start in defeat to West Ham, you could convince yourself that this manager can achieve great things whatever the squad he has to choose from.
That, of course, cannot be the case. Sometimes these players can give the league's best a bloody nose. On other occasions, all the build-up and control can translate into precious little at one end and a proper case of footballing, as happened Thursday with their visitors overturning a first-half deficit with baffling goals from Jarrod Bowen and James Ward-Prowse. Tottenham were getting to the right spots but without the guile of James Maddison, let alone the ruthless efficiency of Harry Kane, this proved to be control without cutting edge.
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That only became apparent after the one-two of sucker punches. It looked like Tottenham could be as profligate as their heart desired, so ordinary were their opponents. For 45 minutes this was shaping up to be the most brutal of 1-0 thrashings. You could almost convince yourself that you had been transported back to the very birth of football, one team totally outfoxing the other through the radical concept of kicking the ball to a teammate. Through nine minutes everyone in a Tottenham shirt had completed six passes. West Ham, playing the part of the England national team, had completed three between them.
Not until the 20th minute, when Kurt Zouma knocked a goal kick short for Lukasz Fabianski to hoof, had every visiting player completed a pass. Even those occasions where they did pick out a teammate were riven with danger, Lucas Paqueta desperately keeping in his goalkeeper's hoof only to release Dejan Kulusevski down the right.
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Cristian Romero looped Spurs into the lead in the ninth minute, rising highest to meet Pedro Porro's corner. The West Ham floodgates were creaking. Tottenham, however, didn't apply the requisite pressure. Certainly there were massed ranks just outside the opposition area but, through no particularly great defending from the visiting backline, it never really translated into much that greatly tested Fabianski. A Giovani Lo Celso volley straight at the Pole, a low cross blocked by Zouma, a close range Richarlison header wide of goal when Spurs were trailing. Heung-min Son didn't add to his 16th minute shot; with Spurs' only top tier striker marked out of the contest the pressure never became intolerable.
If the chasms through the middle of the West Ham backline had been filled by Kane or perhaps even Maddison in the first half then this could have been a remarkably different contest. Instead it was Brennan Johnson attacking those spaces. A harsh assessment of the £47 million man would suggest that West Ham were perfectly willing to let him be the one getting those opportunities. Nothing he did would disabuse anyone of that belief.
Without much in the way of sabre sharp edge, Spurs rarely translated all that territory into anything particularly remarkable. The 23 shots were notable only in how many of them were low value heaves, a sign of attacks running out of steam all too frequently. In such circumstances any team is vulnerable to the joyous randomness of a low scoring sport. And no team ever seems to be quite as prone to those baffling moments as Tottenham, no matter whether their manager is a remorseless pragmatist or doe-eyed romantic.
West Ham might have improved after the break -- it would have been quite the achievement not to have done so -- but there was nothing about their play that suggested parity was fast approaching. Then Mohamed Kudus ended a rare counter with a punt that cannoned first off Romero then Ben Davies. Bowen seemed as surprised as anyone in north London when the ball landed at his feet. A moment to gain a semblance of where he was, then a lashing drive over Gugliemo Vicario, his 50th goal for the Hammers.
Spurs had their openings in chasing parity but the exit of Lo Celso robbed them of a spark in central areas. Too often, from then out, the hosts hammered crosses into the box, exactly what Zouma and Nayef Aguerd wanted. As West Ham's defense eased into a groove, Tottenham found themselves skittish. Players will invariably say they are utterly unaware of statistical quirks but Destiny Udogie's skittish back pass was that of a man who knows that his side had been 1-0 up in their last four games and won none of them.
A smudge more and he would have been safe. Instead, Vicario felt compelled to scramble out, beating Bowen to the ball but only slipping it into the path of Ward-Prowse. His first try at an open goal cannoned back off the post; Romero had not anticipated that, leaving a clear path for the West Ham man to tuck home the rebound.
Shellshocked, Spurs never came close to equalizing. A month ago they topped the Premier League, now they are nine points from the summit. Then again, it was the former of those circumstances that was abnormal. Tottenham know what they want to do. They are just light on the quality to execute it well enough.