West Ham invoke best of Upton Park, save face in time for Liverpool
West Ham found a voice at the London Stadium last week.
Games against Spurs usually have the effect of galvanising Hammers fans, but the 1-0 win that effectively ended the North London side's pursuit of Chelsea at the top was special in other ways.
When Manuel Lanzini scored the only goal in the second half, the Stratford crowd erupted in scenes reminiscent of the best evenings at the Boleyn. The raucous noise that had already been ratcheting up for at least an hour before kickoff flared louder and continued for the rest of the game. The support was undoubtedly appreciated by the players who celebrated with fans at the final whistle.
It was a very different moment from many this difficult season. It was as if, earlier in the day, one of the stadium cleaners had stumbled upon a box left unopened from the move over the summer. Inside the box was some atmosphere captured from the best evenings at the Hammers' former home in Green Street. Some had suspected that it might be sitting around somewhere, many felt it had been lost forever. All were agreed though; it was good to have it back again.
In terms of league position, the win over Tottenham mattered little. The attaining of 42 points was significant, however. If the Hammers can perform as they did against their North London rivals in their remaining matches against Liverpool and Burnley, the opportunity to approach the "Best of the Rest" position in the final table would be tantalisingly close. It's viewing this season in very much a glass-half-full type of way perhaps, but when difficulties from the campaign are taken into consideration, a final position just inside the top 10 could even see the year as being regarded as reasonably successful.
Liverpool are the next visitors to Stratford in the final home game of the season. Desperate for Champions League points, Jurgen Klopp's men will be tough opposition. Despite last season's unprecedented treble over the red half of Merseyside, Liverpool have had the sign over West Ham for many years and home fans will need every bit of encouragement in order to help the team finish the home campaign on a high.
The Hammers will be without captain Mark Noble, out for the final games after admitting he'd been hiding an abdominal injury -- rumoured to be a hernia -- in order to ensure his club's top-flight status. Some have been critical of suggestions that Slaven Bilic knew nothing of the problem, others admire Noble's attention to the cause; the truth though seems to be that the Stratford medical team were simply waiting to see if the injury could be managed before agreeing to an operation.
The captain has had a mercurial season at best and the injury could explain why Noble hasn't always been as effective. It is generally thought though that, great stalwart as he is for the club, the manager needs to be tough and only use the midfielder in certain games. Next season could see the one-club man not always being first choice.
Elsewhere, the news that Michail Antonio has signed a new four-year contract is great for all concerned with the club. Antonio is a key player and, with more support up front, the former Nottingham Forest player could go on to become one of West Ham's greats. Of course, getting that support proved to be beyond Bilic and the board last summer and it's possible the same problems will raise their heads again this close season. That's the next big worry for fans, however. The current concern is to push beyond that 42-point mark and try and finish in the top half. With all the negativity surrounding the teething problems in the London Stadium, that would be seen as an acceptable end to a tricky year.
Having found the Upton Park atmosphere, all that's required now is to discover the cause of that perennial injury crisis and the notional gun that West Ham use to frequently shoot themselves in the foot with. Pack those two up in a box and send them back to what little is left of the Boleyn and everyone would be happy again.
Peter Thorne, aka Billy Blagg (@BillyBlaggEsq), is ESPN FC's West Ham blogger.