Tottenham missed the opportunity to go top of the Premier League as they lost to an outstanding West Ham United performance at Upton Park.
Michail Antonio’s seventh-minute header from Dimitri Payet’s corner gave Slaven Bilic’s side a narrow victory margin – but the Hammers were vastly superior to a disappointing Spurs, who never threatened the victory they required to overhaul Leicester at the top of the table.
Spurs were second best in all departments and when they did threaten, West Ham keeper Adrian saved from Toby Alderweireld’s shot and Harry Kane’s rebound, the England striker also failing with a good chance at the far post late on.
And how West Ham’s fans lapped it up as they relished putting the skids under Spurs while only leaving themselves one point off the top four in this most unpredictable of seasons.
Spurs have not been at the summit of the top tier in March since 1964 – and they will have to wait a little longer after one of their poorest performances of the season.
Mauricio Pochettino’s team pride themselves on pressing their opponents but had the tables turned on them ruthlessly by their hosts, especially in a harrowing first 45 minutes in which they were run off their feet and out of position.
Spurs could never gather any momentum or rhythm and, on the rare occasions they threatened, the normally reliable Kane was unable to find the target.
This was only their fourth defeat of the Premier League season – and they have an immediate chance to make amends in the north London derby with Arsenal at White Hart Lane on Saturday.
There is no reason to lose faith in a Spurs side that has come so far this season – but they still need to answer the question about whether they can crack it when the heat is on, because they came up short at West Ham.
Bilic stepped into the breach when a call from Real Madrid snatched Rafael Benitez away from West Ham only hours before he was scheduled to succeed Sam Allardyce at the Boleyn Ground.
The Croat had a short but distinguished playing career at West Ham – and has brought charisma and style to a club that prides itself (not necessarily with much justification in the recent era) on playing with a certain style and panache.
There is no mistaking the style now, built on the no-frills framework of James Collins in defence and the admirable consistency of captain Mark Noble in midfield – and with glorious attacking flourishes.
Payet is the darling of the Hammers’ fans, the French midfield man signed for £10m from Marseille in the summer, bringing a buzz of excitement every time he gets the ball.
Throw in the skill of Manuel Lanzini, the unpredictability of Antonio and the power of on-loan Emmanuel Emenike, and Bilic is putting together a potent combination – as Spurs found to their cost.
Just turn right out of Upton Park station and on to Queen Street and you get the instant flavour of what makes the Boleyn Ground so special.
Vibrant, busy and with all the sights, sounds and smells of one of the great traditional old English football arenas – an arena that will sadly soon close its doors forever.
There are only five more Premier League games here (and the possibility of an FA Cup replay against Manchester United should West Ham draw at Old Trafford) before they make the short journey to the Olympic Stadium for next season.
And how this venue will be missed. Time moves on and West Ham have been presented with a perfect opportunity to progress, but night games in particular are very special here in east London.
The home fans give the ground a thunderous atmosphere from before kick-off, when the bubbles machine accompanies the club’s old anthem ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ and continues non-stop in a relentless, intense environment.
The Hammers will lose something when they leave here, as it remains one of the great landmarks of English football.