Hammers battle back at Wembley to relieve pressure on Bilic
Irish youngster Declan Rice plays in centre of West Ham defence in Tottenham win
Angelo Ogbonna celebrates with his West Ham teammates after scoring his team’s third goal. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images
Tottenham 2 West Ham 3
West Ham United produced a sensational comeback at Wembley Stadium, scoring three times in the space of 15 second-half minutes to turn a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 victory that propelled Slaven Bilic’s team into the quarter finals of the Carabao Cup.
For Bilic, struggling to save his job past the weekend, this was a rousing show of strength from a much-changed team (Irish youngster Declan Rice started in the centre of defence) that had looked shot at half-time as Spurs scored twice while barely flexing their muscles. Instead they surged back and produced one of the great Carabao Cup nights, led by a ragged but rousing captain’s performance from Mark Noble, and some energetic opportunism from Andre Ayew, who scored twice.
There has been a zombified quality to Bilic’s time on the London stadium touchline, a sense of some doomed alpha primate left to roam that vast open space between pitch and dugout, bellowing up at the trees, pointing vaguely at the distant figures while up in the stands plans are laid and successions put in place.
This week the Hoffenheim manager, Julian Nagelsmann, has been mentioned as a possible replacement. The same day a rambling, unshaven Bilic gave an alarmingly hangdog press conference, as the suggestion emerged he has been given two games to save his job, a ludicrous, unworkable scenario in practice.
Presumably this is another stage in the HR procedures that seem to be driving the Bilic relationship with the West Ham board, for whom a major concern appears to be the need to avoid, at all costs, any kind of payout.
Spurs made seven changes from the weekend. For West Ham it was nine, for a game that looked like a minor distraction before the make-or-break of Crystal Palace this weekend.
The best thing that can be said about West Ham in the first half here is they had a decent first five minutes. At which point they simply waved Tottenham through for the opening goal. Rice was taken out of the game by a lovely touch around the corner by Fernando Llorente. Son Heung-min drove forward into the large empty space in front of him. His pass to Moussa Sissoko was perfectly weighted, the low finish effortless, West Ham’s marking slack.
Son reprised his role as a central striker here and he was a sparkling presence early on. Kieran Trippier and the returning Danny rose hugged the touchline to good effect. Dele Alli had a header palmed up into the air by Adrián when he really should have scored.
Noble did his best to drive his team-mates on, but looked understandably rusty in his passing as West Ham played with some energy if no real precision, every attack laced with the fear of a Spurs counter.
The second goal duly arrived on 36 minutes, a period of intricate Tottenham passing, steadily working the position for Alli to stop, look up and dink a curling shot that found the far corner off Aaron Cresswell’s head.
By then there had already been some outbreaks of bottle-chucking between home and away fans, inadequately separated behind Adrián’s goal by four rows of seats and a thin line of unfortunate stewards. “Slaven Bilic, we want you to stay,” Spurs fans sang as the whistle blew for half-time, at which point it simply felt like a case of how many.
West Ham had other ideas though. Whatever Bilic said at the break, he really should have been saying it all season as his team came steaming out with far greater intent. Noble had a spat near the touchline with Rose. Andy Carroll began to win the odd header.
With 55 minutes gone Ayew pulled the score back to 2-1, finishing from close range after Michel Vorm had palmed out a fine hard low shot from Edimilson Fernandes. West Ham’s bulging away section erupted, and suddenly we had a cup tie. By now Ayew was running across the front line with manic intent. Bilic, funeral-suited, was up on his touchline pointing and barking. And on the hour mark it was Ayew for 2-2, the Ghanaian sliding in to finish smartly as West Ham worked a nice little passing square around Andy Carroll’s flick and Manuel Lanzini’s slid pass.
Wembley was in (semi-) uproar as suddenly West Ham were driving the game against a Spurs XI struggling to raise their levels, piqued to find an opponent defibrillated miraculously on the treatment table. On 69 minutes a brilliantly unexpected comeback was complete, Angelo Ogbonna losing Toby Alderweireld at a corner, leaping highest and bulleting the ball into the net. In the space of 15 minutes 2-0 had become 2-3, and Spurs had gone from romping, strolling bullies to a bewildered bunch of white shirts trudging back to kick off in front of a three-quarters silent Wembley.
Spurs pressed hard, penning West Ham back without ever managing to create any clear chances. At the final whistle Bilic was jubilant, leaping about on the touchline as the West Ham end erupted. Almost exactly 10 years ago his Croatia team had beaten England by the same score on this ground, a result that effectively made Bilic as a manager.
For West Ham’s fans this will go down as a sensational night against their London rivals, a one-off, and a reminder of why the cups retain their allure. For Bilic it is a moment to breathe, for now, a little easier.