While it was welcome to see the man José Mourinho calls “Hero Kane” back in goalscoring form, it was impossible not to conclude that Tottenham have so much more to offer as an attacking force. This was a slog of a London derby at times and although there was daylight between the sides in the end, the truth is Spurs had hardly displayed much wit or invention before benefiting from a moment of fortune, Tomas Soucek’s unfortunate own goal settling a tight game and deepening West Ham’s relegation fears.
West Ham had defended assertively before Soucek’s aberration, maintaining a solid shape and keeping Spurs at arm’s length for much of the contest. There were few chances and times when it was impossible not to feel that Spurs are a long way from developing a convincing attacking identity under Mourinho, especially with Harry Kane short of fitness after returning from hamstring surgery.
The good news for Mourinho, however, is that any team will have a chance when they can call upon a finisher of Kane’s class. Whereas West Ham had no cutting edge in attack, Spurs had their main man up front, ready to pounce just when the danger was growing at the other end. Mourinho’s side had escaped when Jarrod Bowen struck a post but Kane was running clear moments later, breaking on to Son Heung-min’s pass before crisply beating Lukasz Fabianski.
Spurs were up to seventh after securing their first win in eight. West Ham were beaten, left nursing a grievance after replays suggested that the ball had brushed Davinson Sánchez’s arm before going in off Soucek when the opening goal arrived after 64 low-key minutes.
Yet while David Moyes was entitled to wonder why VAR did not disallow the goal, the questionable officiating did not change the fact that West Ham’s pragmatism had left them vulnerable to one moment of bad luck. They have lost seven away league games on the bounce, conceding 15 goals in the process, and have to start taking more risks. Michail Antonio was isolated up front and the worry for West Ham, who are only above the bottom three thanks to their superior goal difference over 18th-placed Bournemouth, is it was another game when they did not create enough.
Moyes, conservative by nature, has seen his side lose their first two matches back. They must play with more urgency when they host Chelsea next Wednesday, even though they had more presence in midfield with Declan Rice freed from his centre-back duties. Moyes wanted to bolt the door after last Saturday’s flimsy defeat to Wolves and he picked a side high on aggression and low on flair, bolting the door by dropping Felipe Anderson and using Rice in a disciplined midfield three with Mark Noble and Soucek.
Spurs wheezed when West Ham put bodies behind the ball in the first half. Kane was too slow to the ball and Son made little impact against Ryan Fredericks, playing at right-back after Jeremy Ngakia rejected West Ham’s latest offer of a new contract.
It was laboured from Spurs, even with Giovani Lo Celso’s subtle touches impressing in midfield and Lucas Moura testing Fabianski’s reflexes with a long-range effort. The flicks and tricks never come off for Dele Alli, who made way for Erik Lamela just before the hour, and the technology conspired against the hosts on the stroke of half-time, a VAR review showing that Son had strayed just offside when he collected a clever pass from Lo Celso before drilling a low shot past Fabianski.
Spurs had finished the half strongly, threatening again when Lucas jabbed a good chance wide. West Ham had retreated and were losing possession with increasing regularity. Noble was one of the worst culprits, hard though he tried, and Spurs had another sniff early in the second half, Fabianski saving from Kane at his near post. It was more encouraging from Kane, who would also bend a shot just over the bar, though there was another worrying sign when he received a booking after catching Fabián Balbuena with a high foot.
West Ham needed to work out that the game was there for the taking. Spurs have wobbled at the back all season and they should have fallen behind when Bowen produced an inviting cross, only for Pablo Fornals to drag a poor shot wide.
Spurs responded, Lo Celso finding Kane, whose angle shot slithered narrowly wide. Lamela fired into the side-netting moments later and the tension evaporated when a corner from Lo Celso caused havoc, the ball bouncing off Sánchez’s arm in the middle before hitting Soucek and dropping beyond Fabianski.
Moyes, who criticised the officials after full-time, finally went for broke, introducing Anderson and Manuel Lanzini. West Ham pushed, almost equalising when Bowen cracked a shot against the woodwork. Spurs looked worried – until Kane stepped up.