OH HEY REMEMBER THIS? - Ian Walton
Winning on Sunday seems all but a necessity for Tottenham on Sunday to keep up with the teams running away with the top four spots in the League. But what's the view from the other side?
Between running a political diary, appearing on UK TV and running a popular magazine, broadcaster/publisher/blogger Iain Dale somehow finds time to manage the excellent WestHamTilIDie.com. In advance of Sunday's tie between his club and ours, a game which will have pivotal implications for the league going forwards for both sides, I caught up with Iain to ask him a few questions about his perspective on what fans of both teams should be looking out for on the day.
EF: The first question of course is how are you feeling about West Ham's brilliant form going on to this tie? Are you looking at the next few months with optimism or caution with regards to holding on the solid league foothold the club has achieved so far?
ID: Well, we're in 7th place, at least ten places above where most pundits thought we'd be. It's been an excellent season so far and there's no reason to think it has to deteriorate from here. We have a very well organised, physical side, which other teams are finding difficult to break down. We have a superb defensive record and a midfield three which is performing miracles.
EF: Indisputably, West Ham-Spurs is a derby of sorts, and it's always felt like there's more than just geographical proximity underpinning that. What would you say drives the traditional rivalry between Spurs and West Ham fans?
ID: I don't know. I am un atypical West Ham fan in that I have always had a bit of a soft spot for Spurs. Most West Ham fans regard Spurs alongside Millwall as the team we love to hate. For me that's Arsenal. I don't know where this hatred has sprung from. Spurs have always played an entertaining style of football and that's why I like watching them.
EF: What's your favourite ever memory from this tie in the past?
ID: I wasn't there, but David Cross's 4 goals at White Hart Lane in 1981 (I think) takes some beating. But Dani's late goal in the late 1990s was also memorable. For some reason I always go into a game at White Hart Lane thinking we will get something out of it. We just need to keep a certain Mr Defoe quiet.
EF: Moving on the game in hand and looking at tactics, Sam Allardyce has made devastating use of the 4-2-3-1 formation in West Ham's league games to date, with Andy Carroll taking a pivotal role leading the line and Kevin Nolan shouldering a lot of the goalscoring burden. Do you see him making any special adjustments anywhere for this game?
ID: I don't, to be honest, although with Yossi Benayoun out, as well as Vaz Te, we will be weaker on the right in attack. Gary O'Neil played there against Stoke, but he is not a strong player and it may be that Sam puts a more defensive player in there. The key is Mark Noble, who plays in the defensive part of the triangle. His form has been a revelation this season and he will be a key part of this game. You'd think that the crowd would be on Andy Carroll's back seeing as he hasn't scored so far, but not a bit of it. He has been immense. No side we have played against knows what to do with him. He has played a crucial part in virtually all our goals since his arrival from Liverpool. He and Nolan have an immense understanding, both on and off the pitch.
EF: Obviously dealing with West Ham's massive aerial prowess will be a big task for Spurs on Sunday, particularly for Steven Caulker and William Gallas- I imagine Sandro will have a task with keeping Mark Noble quiet too. Where do you see the other big matchups coming on the pitch?
ID: I suspect whoever marks Nolan will have their work cut out, but it's the wings where Spurs need to concentrate on and stop balls into Andy Carroll to knock down for Nolan to latch onto.
EF: In your opinion, who's Tottenham's key danger man for this tie--the one who'll give the Hammers the toughest time?
ID: Defoe. He has a tremendous scoring record against us. Let's hope your rubbish new manager leaves him on the bench!
EF: On the subject of the little fella, what sort of reception do you think he can expect from the travelling West Ham fans, given his history with the club?
ID: It's difficult to forget what he did. Just to remind you, he put in a transfer request the day after we were relegated in 2006. A real insult to a club which had given him everything. But young people do immature things and he was probably under the influence of an agent. I thought there was a real chance he might have come back to Upton Park last summer and I wish he had. He and Carroll would have been immense. So yes, he will attract some boos, but we all recognise him as the great striker that he is.
EF: Finally, inevitably--what's your score prediction?
ID: I'd be happy with a point, but we have a good away record and we could nick it 1-0. I suspect that it will be the team who scores the best of three who will win it, though. Unless your lot have dodgy lasagna again!