Toothless Hammers lose to the old foes

Tottenham Hotspur 1 West Ham Utd 0 IN THE END, West Ham s valiant effort to stop the Spurs march came to nothing. They fought hard for 90 minutes, but with the team they were forced to put out compared with Tottenham s, surely, and sadly, the best they co

Tottenham Hotspur 1 West Ham Utd 0

IN THE END, West Ham's valiant effort to stop the Spurs march came to nothing. They fought hard for 90 minutes, but with the team they were forced to put out compared with Tottenham's, surely, and sadly, the best they could have hoped for was a draw, writes DAVE EVANS.

Perhaps indicative of the difference between the two, was that Spurs were able to bring on Russian international striker Roman Pavlyuchenko from the bench, while the injury-hit Hammers were forced to start with the ageing, slowing Diego Tristan and only had inexperienced youngster Freddie Sears to bring on at the death.

It was the Russian who finally settled this match in Tottenham's favour. On 65 minutes, Vedran Corluka crossed to Luka Modric and when he slipped the ball to Pavlyuchenko, the Russian turned James Collins, before firing across Rob Green and into the net.

"I knew that the first 15 or 20 minutes of the second half would be the crucial moments and we said that if we kept our composure then the more we would frustrate them and that would give us a chance," explained West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola after the match.

"We had chances, to be honest, but we just missed them, but at the other end they scored with theirs. Pavlyuchenko is very good, he scored a very good goal and that was the difference."

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He was pretty much spot on. Neither Robbie Keane or Darren Bent looked like scoring for Spurs, while Tristan was anonymous and David Di Michele spurned West Ham's best two chances with Heurelho Gomes equal to the task.

Zola though was still full of praise for his mishmash of a line-up: "They played very well," he insisted. "They stood up against a Tottenham side that on paper, in my opinion, is one of the top six in the country.

"We played without fear and it could easily have been a point for us."

Maybe, but only as a 0-0 draw. Particularly in the first half, West Ham were certainly a match for the home side. Junior Stanislas looked bright on the left, Luis Boa Morte had his moments of skill for the second game running, while Mark Noble put in one of his best halves of the season, with a swashbuckling performance.

At the other end, Herita Ilunga was a match for the pace of Aaron Lennon, while Matty Upson was as imperious as ever and James Tom-kins coped admirably out of position at right back.

Spurs had their half chances in the opening 45 minutes. Tom Huddlestone fired over and then had a long-distance effort beaten away by Rob Green, while Robbie Keane's shot bobbled in front of the West Ham goalkeeper before he was ab-le to bundle it behind.

Tottenham also had three penalty appeals rightly turned down by referee Martin Atkinson, but you felt that it was only a matter of time before he succumbed to the pressure and gave one - all credit to him that he didn't.

At the other end, Stanislas crossed from the right for Di Michele to volley hard, but out for a throw on the far side, while the Italian striker also saw another effort deflected wide, but West Ham were still lacking any cutting edge.

Zola was certainly right about the first 20 minutes of the second half. Didier Zokora came on and stopped the freedom of Noble in midfield, while Pavlyuchenko's back header fell neatly into Green's hands, but Di Michele had his best chance on 58 minutes when he found himself free in the box, only to shoot tamely at Gomes.

Pavlyuchenko's neat finish broke the deadlock seven minutes later and prompted the arrival of Kieron Dyer from the bench, but you felt that West Ham's hopes of getting anything from this game had already gone.

Dyer did get in a shot which slipped wide of the mark, but it was Spurs who looked more likely winners and Lennon forced a back-pedalling save from Green with an effort from the touchline that was probably a cross.

Substitute Sears lost possession to allow Pavlyuchenko to put in Lennon, and when his shot was superbly saved by the goalkeeper, the follow-up from Keane was brilliantly cleared off the line by James Collins.

The last big chance for West Ham came on 88 minutes when Di Michele once more found himself in space in the box. Once more though his shot was parried by Gomes, before the goalkeeper fell gratefully on the loose ball.

There was still time for Di Michele to get in the box and turn his defender, one way, then the other, then the other, without managing to shoot, before his effort was finally blocked as time simply ran out.

West Ham have the look of a marathon runner who is fast running out of puff. They are clinging on with all their might to seventh place, but there are quicker runners closing in fast and the finishing line is still a long way away.

To hold off Spurs and finish in seventh place would obviously be a dream for every Hammers fan. And for Zola too, that is a huge incentive.

"Believe me it is going to be a big achievement for us, considering the kind of players they have in their team - it will be huge," said the boss.

"They are a big club with the huge financial resources they have behind them, but the good thing about football is that sometimes it is not only down to the money."

Maybe not, but it is down to the players that you can get on the field. Last season the Hammers were blighted by injuries all campaign, but they did have top quality strikers to choose from for the most part.

Without Dean Ashton and Carlton Cole, as we suspected, the Hammers don't look good enough to score the goals that will earn them that seventh place. Without Scott Parker for much longer, then they may have to settle for a similar position to last season.

That would be unfair on Zola who has done such a great job since his arrival, with some pleasing football as well as the emergence of some exciting young players.

But it seems the sale of Craig Bellamy and the failure to replace him in January, may cost them dear.

West Ham: Green, Tomkins (Savio 81), Ilunga, Collins, Upson, Neill, Noble, Boa Morte (Dyer 71), Stanislas, Di Michele, Tristan (Sears 85). Unused subs: Lastuvka, Lopez, Payne, N'Gala.

Attendance: 35,969. Referee: Martin Atkinson.