This might well be it for Tottenham Hotspur. By the time they next play, a week on Sunday against Manchester United, Chelsea might already be champions. One cannot say that they have blown the title race, given that their previous run of nine wins in nine cut a lead of 10 points to four, but their 1-0 defeat to West Ham on Friday means Chelsea can confirm their title win should they beat Middlesbrough on Sunday then West Brom next Friday.
Manuel Lanzini scored the only goal of an exciting, if often scrappy, derby at the London Stadium, which was unusually atmospheric for the visit of Spurs. At the end, manager Slaven Bilic roared in celebration and perhaps relief, while the fans sang “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” with a gusto rarely heard this season.
For West Ham, these three points dispelled any remote possibility that they might be relegated. So tight is the bottom half of the table that this win takes them into ninth, on 42 points, 10 clear of the bottom three. The relief was palpable.
West Ham had the better of the opening stages, two early chances falling to Lanzini, with a left-footed shot, and Sam Byram, whose back-post header was turned behind for a corner. As the atmosphere both on the pitch and in the stands turned decidedly spicy, Tottenham edged their way back into the game, and nearly went ahead through a trio of chances in quick succession that were blocked and saved by a variety of West Ham defenders. Even by the standards of these rivals, it was a rapid start to the game.
A moment of controversy came after around 25 minutes, when Lanzini was wiped out by Hugo Lloris chasing a ball behind an unusually open Spurs defence; the goalkeeper got the ball first, so referee Anthony Taylor deemed it acceptable, but Hammers players as well as Bilic were incredulous. It might not have mattered if Cheikhou Kouyate had done better with the subsequent loose ball, but his lob was easily cleared.
Before the break the game was rapid and absorbing, but for the first 20 minutes after, it became scrappy in the extreme. Neither side could get any decent hold on things, until West Ham took the lead in the 64th minute. This had been an uncharacteristically poor defensive performance from Tottenham, which they capped with some calamitous work at the back: after a couple of botched clearances the ball fell to Lanzini, who forced home from inside the 6-yard box.
Vincent Janssen was thrown on as Spurs went all-out for an equaliser, seeing the title slipping out of sight again, but they were too disjointed to level the score. Until next season, then.