West Ham coming back from three goals down just doesn’t happen. The shoe is normally on the other foot, with Sunday’s opponents Tottenham far more likely to stick the boot in at the death.
For those with an interest in history, Paul Stalteri once plunged a dagger through the solar plexus of Alan Curbishley, while Gareth Bale – in his first, rather successful stint in north London – was Andre Villas-Boas’ hero on an epic night under the Boleyn Ground lights in 2013.
There are many other examples of Hammers heartache hat could be drawn upon, too.
But this time it was West Ham’s turn to shine, and in particular David Moyes’.
The beleaguered Scotsman is often under the microscope, accused of being tactically outdated and mocked for suggesting that his side have played well and deserved something from almost every game they’ve played in.
Sometimes he’s right and sometimes he’s wrong. He’s also the manager of a club who have the most hated owners in the Premier League, which doesn’t help his cause.
You could argue that against Jose Mourinho’s rejuvenated Tottenham, West Ham didn’t deserve a share of the spoils. Were it not for the woodwork and some smart work from goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, this particular game at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium could have been long out of sight.
Harry Kane and Son Heung-min were at their brilliant best in the first half, carving the Hammers’ defence apart at will. With chasms of space to operate in, Spurs’ dynamic duo played their way through the spine of West Ham’s wide open midfield and backline, opening up a 3-0 lead after just 16 minutes.
It was static, schoolboy defending from West Ham at best, and served a reminder of the mental fragility that the club – and the players – have against certain opponents in certain situations.
The early inroads also offered an insight into the evolution of Mourinho’s side, who most certainly are clicking in the final third – thanks to subtle tactical tweaks from the three-time Premier League winner – namely deploying Kane a little deeper – and the impressive combination of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Tanguy Ndombele in central midfield.
Usually, that kind of shocking start is enough to put any West Ham side to bed, particularly when it’s a London derby being played out in front of a raucous crowd. But post-lockdown football without supporters is anything but logical. Instead, football has become this beautifully unpredictable entity, that can see any side do just about anything they wish to do.
From Aston Villa scoring seven against champions Liverpool, Manchester United shipping six at home to Spurs or Chelsea throwing away yet another lead to concede three against Southampton – wait, that’s normal – there is really nothing that can surprise us anymore.
So when Fabian Balbuena glanced home a consolation header just under ten minutes from time, the idea that West Ham could get back into this with another goal was somehow not a bizarre one. They had played better in the second half, after all, closing the space between their three central defenders and Declan Rice in midfield to form a more compact shield. There was also a tireless work ethic that acknowledged the opening quarter of an hour had been far from acceptable.
Minutes later, that mythical second goal did come. Neat interplay between Vladimir Coufal – who looks to be a far more rounded player than Ryan Fredericks – and Andriy Yarmolenko allowed the Czech wing-back to force his way towards the byline, and his fizzing cross was deflected into his own goal by Davinson Sanchez.
Normally, most West Ham fans, if not all, would admit that coming back from the dead is not something the club do. Surrendering meekly, wrestling defeat or a draw from the jaws of victory or just straight up capitulation? That’s far more on brand.
But this felt different. You could tell there was an extra twist in the tale coming – because the level of crazy that we’re now used to seeing hadn’t yet been reached – but even stranger, the feeling almost demanded to go West Ham’s way.
So it was almost inevitable to see returning hero Bale skew wide of Fabianski’s post and Serge Aurier do what Serge Aurier does – needlessly fouling a savvy Robert Snodgrass on the edge of Spurs’ penalty area.
There was also no surprise – just kidding – to the once in a lifetime strike from Manuel Lanzini that followed. A strike of footballing perfection that has inked the Argentine’s name into the annuls of empty stadia time, and one that sent shockwaves of delirium into the homes of thousands of West Ham fans.
Deserved? On the balance of play, maybe not. But for the endeavour, resilience and grit shown by Moyes’ men – as well as the ticking of the mental football and new normal box – in the dying embers of the game? Abso-bloody-lutely.
Long live this crazy world of football we now live in.