It’s difficult to express just how important Tottenham Hotspur’s 3-2 win over West Ham United was to this club. Well, actually, scratch that: it’s easy to express how important that win was, and it’s etched all over the face of Harry Winks.
Winksy, making his first ever Premier League start, went the full 90 minutes at White Hart Lane on Saturday, and more importantly got his first ever Premier League goal, bundling in a rebound effort past Darren Randolph to equalize at 1-1 in the opening minutes of the second half. His reaction, and his celebration on the sidelines with Mauricio Pochettino, was joyous, and even though a different Tottenham Harry got the game winners, you could see how much that goal meant both to him personally and to the entire Tottenham squad.
Winks had a fantastic match on Saturday, but much of the rest of the team didn’t, and this was a win that almost wasn’t to be. Tottenham Hotspur were pretty abjectly poor for much of their match against West Ham on Saturday. Playing without regular starters Toby Alderweireld, Erik Lamela, and Dele Alli, Spurs went down 1-0 in the first half off of a set piece when Victor Wanyama lost his man, and then went down AGAIN after Vincent Janssen hauled down a West Ham player to concede a penalty midway through the second half.
It was the kind of terrible, capitulating performance that Spurs fans have seen a lot of in recent weeks, and it looked very much like Spurs were on their way to their first Premier League loss and their eighth consecutive match without a win. What was worse was that this match was against West Ham, a team that is perhaps second only to Arsenal in terms of supporter ire. When West Ham beats Spurs, they do things like make t-shirts and DVDs. It’s galling, and humiliating. Away fans even started changing “It’s happened again... West Ham United, it’s happened again.”
But then everything started to click. Son Heung-Min and Dele Alli, who entered the match as a late substitutes, sparked a furious comeback late in the match as Spurs desperately pushed forward. Son found Harry Kane wide open at West Ham’s back post for an unmarked tap-in in the 89th minute, and not even two minutes later earned a penalty. Harry Kane converted from the spot to complete one of the most improbable and exhilarating Tottenham Hotspur comeback victories in years.
Was it pretty? No. Was it an especially good performance? Absolutely not. West Ham supporters are no doubt furious over Mike Dean’s late penalty shout, and you could say that Dean, who granted two penalties but waved off two more for Spurs, was probably the most influential person on the pitch Saturday.
In fact, the more curmudgeonly among Spurs fans would be correct to say that this win, as thrilling as it was, only papered over the huge cracks that were evident in Spurs’ overall play. Spurs largely abandoned the midfield press that is so influential to the way Tottenham plays. Pochettino set up his team to play frighteningly narrow at times; with no true wingers on the pitch, Danny Rose and Kyle Walker were the only outlets for wide play, and that left them especially vulnerable to West Ham counterattacks through Dimitri Payet and Michail Antonio.
But Spurs did find a way to win and gutted out an incredible, last-gasp comeback victory that not only breaks their winless streak, but also catapults them back into contention in the Premier League title race. With the three points, Spurs are in fifth place, but only three behind league leaders Liverpool and Manchester City.
And more importantly, this gives Tottenham a desperately needed jolt of adrenaline heading into two huge matches next week. Tottenham head to Monaco for a must-win Champions League match on Tuesday to keep from crashing out of the competition. That’s followed by a late Saturday match against Chelsea, a rematch of the “Battle of the Bridge” 2-2 draw last spring where the wheels fell off of Spurs’ title hopes.
A loss to a West Ham team sitting just above the relegation zone would have been catastrophic for Spurs’ confidence, and without confidence Spurs would have had very little chance in their next two games. In fact, you can easily see a scenario where a West Ham loss would send this young team spiraling down into a funk that would be nearly impossible to claw back out of.
That’s not to say that Spurs can’t or won’t still lose the next two matches. They very well might. This West Ham victory, however, had the feel of a season-defining match. With two strokes of Harry Kane’s foot, Spurs have broken their duck and have the win at their back. They should be welcoming Alderweireld and Lamela to the team before too long. After a month of awful football and depressing news, things finally feel like they are starting to improve.
Spurs’ dominating victory over Manchester City proves that on their day they have the talent and the wherewithal to beat any club in the Premier League. They may not have showed that level of ability against West Ham, but they got a hugely important victory that means more than just three points in the table. It was a victory that clawed them out of a deep funk and might be the thing that kick-starts them back into contention for titles.