“It’s happening again! It’s happening again!” sang the West Ham United fans, after Manuel Lanzini gave them the lead in the 65th minute. “Tottenham Hotspur, it’s happening again.”
Indeed, it was.
"It's happening again, it's happening again! Tottenham Hotspur, it's happening again!" sing the home fans.
— Greg Johnson (@gregianjohnson) May 5, 2017
May 5 shall likely be remembered as the day when, for the 56th year in a row, it was all but ensured that Spurs would not be winning the English title. It’s a run of futility that extends back to 1961, when the club won just the second First Division trophy of its existence.
In a dreary Friday night game, Lanzini poked in a shot from close range after Tottenham had failed to clear the ball during a scramble in its box. It eventually fell for the wide-open Argentine, who had started the attack himself.
GOAL! West Ham 1-0 Tottenham (Lanzini 65')
⚽️ Manuel Lanzini
????️ Andre Ayew pic.twitter.com/vnNBp3CS2F
— West Ham Stats (@WestHamUtdStats) May 5, 2017
It was the only goal of the game. And it meant little to West Ham, even though it temporarily lifted the Hammers from 15th to ninth place – albeit with as many as three more games played than the five clubs within two points. But it meant the world to Spurs. And to Chelsea, which can now saunter off with a second Premier League title in three years.
For the loss will allow the Blues to extend their league lead over second-place Tottenham to seven points on Monday with a home win over hapless Middlesbrough, a heavy favorite for relegation. That’s seven points with three rounds of games remaining. Seven points with nine of them left on the table.
The math is simple.
Barring an utter collapse by Chelsea, Tottenham will have to settle for second place this year. And while that will mark the first time in 22 years it has finished above North London rivals Arsenal – this, in fact, is already a certainty – it will still feel like a disappointment for a team that has consistently played the prettiest soccer in England. And that has the best young team this side of Monaco.
And so ended a run of nine straight Spurs wins that had chopped down what was once a 10-point Chelsea lead to four. Mostly, they had been impressive and emphatic wins, highlighted by the 2-0 slaying of Arsenal in the final derby at White Hart Lane on Sunday.
In truth, Spurs didn’t deserve a whole lot better against West Ham. Other than a triple chance, they were feckless in the first half. But goalkeeper Adrian twice denied Harry Kane and Dele Alli’s shot was blocked. The Spaniard made easy work of an Eric Dier header from a corner a while later.
Meanwhile, at the other end, Tottenham goalie Hugo Lloris took out the escaped Lanzini in clearing a ball in no-man’s land before the break. But he played the ball first, and so referee Anthony Taylor was right not to blow his whistle.
The Hammers, in fact, had the better looks in the second half when Spurs registered no major chances at all. Andre Ayew had a look but blasted way high, the second time in the game he completely misplaced his shot. And Jonathan Calleri was handed a sumptuous chance, but his rocket was batted away by Lloris. This, of course, was after Lanzini had put Tottenham in its bind.
And no matter the substitutions an increasingly desperate Mauricio Pochettino made, Spurs didn’t have an easier time of breaking through West Ham’s competent back line or often even the omnipresent Mark Noble, who shielded the defense from midfield.
Alli was largely invisible, after his triumphant game against Arsenal. And Kane, save for that pair of shots, was isolated. Son Heung-Min’s runs went nowhere. And Christian Eriksen never did locate the keys to unlock the opposition. Moussa Dembele’s passing made no difference after he came on.
It was, indeed, happening again to Tottenham.
Sure, it faced long odds of beating Chelsea to the finish line. But Pochettino’s soaring side would have hoped to keep things competitive to the final matchday or two, rather than capitulating in such timid fashion with three games to spare.
Spurs fans face a long weekend before Chelsea host Middlesbrough at Stamford Bridge. And the Blues partisans get Saturday and Sunday to savor what will surely be the game that clinches it all but mathematically. That will come next Friday, when Chelsea could lock up the title at West Bromwich Albion.
Spurs looked dejected. Baffled.
It had happened again indeed.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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