Slaven Bilic may just have saved his job after his struggling West Ham progressed to the quarterfinals of the Carabao Cup.
Slaven Bilic may just have saved his job after his struggling West Ham progressed to the quarterfinals of the Carabao Cup, thanks to an incredible comeback over Tottenham Hostspur, whose run in the competition was ended at Wembley Stadium during a fantastic night of football.
After taking a two goal lead through first half goals by Moussa Sissoko and Dele Alli, the home side looked confident and in little danger of facing a return of the 'Wembley curse'. Nevertheless, the Hammers responded in the second half with two well taken goals from Andre Ayew, before a powerful Angelo Ogbonna header from a Manuel Lanzini corner sealed an amazing comeback and confirmed victory.
Coming into this fixture the Lilywhites were high on confidence having been undefeated in their last five matches. The Hammers were far less predictable having only won two of their last five in all competitions and with the 3-2 Premier League defeat to their opponents fresh in their minds.
Spurs' manager Mauricio Pochettino made seven changes to the side that thumped Liverpool on Sunday with Son Heung-min making his 100th appearance for the club. With the mounting pressure on Irons' manager Slaven Bilic and his side in need of an encouraging performance, nine changes were made to the starting eleven with only Cheikhou Kouyate and Lanzini surviving from the Brighton defeat.
The match kicked off in front of a relatively sparse crowd, although this did not distract the teams who responded with a fast start and playing good possession football on the glistening Wembley surface.
Tottenham made the first telling strike in the sixth minute, breaking quickly from a visitor's attack. With the ball being played insightfully out of the back from Ben Davies in to Fernando Llorente's feet, the Spanish striker flicked the ball nonchalantly first time in to Son's path. The South Korean instantly cut in from the left touchline and played a well-weighted pass into Sissoko; the Frenchman didn't need to break stride and passed the ball first time past the advancing Adrian and into the corner of the West Ham net.
The home side continued with a high press on the visitors putting them under continued pressure while in possession. Sissoko in particular, buoyed by his early goal was having a big influence on the early exchanges. Invariably, a lot of the good work by the home side was going through the Frenchman. In the 17th minute, Adrian was called into action again making a decent stop from an Alli header, from an in-swinging cross, as the Spurs man was left unopposed at the back post.
Even with the numerous changes, Spurs looked a side that were confident and in control they could increase their level of performance at will, whereas West Ham were having to work that much harder to impose themselves.
Then in 35th minute, with the ball being played around the visitor's area, Alli took aim and curled a delightful right foot shot past the despairing dive of Adrian's left hand, although it did take a slight deflection off Rice on its route to goal.
To their credit West Ham matched Spurs for possession, as much of the game was being played in the midfield area apart from when home side wanted to impose their superiority.
Surprisingly, no changes in personnel or formation were made by Slaven Bilic as he was probably looking for a reaction from his West Ham side after strong words during the half time interval. However, the first few minutes of the second half continued in the same manner as the first, both teams comfortable in possession but the visitors lacking intensity to really concern their hosts.
Then in the 54th minute a Fernandes drive through a group of players was parried by the unsighted Michel Vorm and Ayew was their to prod home the rebound. The goal instantly rocked the confidence of the Spurs team, while a course of energy raced through the West Ham side giving them some belief that the match was retrievable.
The match turned again as the Irons increased their attacking intensity while Spurs looked dazed; Lanzini pulled the ball back across the edge of the Tottenham six yard box as Toby Alderweireld failed to clear and Ayew tapped home the equaliser into the roof of the net. It was now the visitors in the ascendancy and looking the most likely winners - an incredible turn around.
In the 69th minute the comeback was complete. Lanzini delivered the perfect inswinging corner and Italian centre back Ogbonna met the ball unopposed at the near post and fired a bullet like header past the startled Vorm.
The West Ham supporters erupted into a chorus of celebrations while their counterparts looked on dumbfounded with the drastic turn of events.
The entertaining tie continued to ebb and flow until the final whistle, such a huge contrast to the first half, but a joy to watch for all supporters. Nevertheless, the Lilywhites just could not find that decisive cutting edge to get them back on level terms, even though Pochettino started to put on more of his familiar stars .
The West Ham players and their under pressure manager can feel rightly proud of their achievements tonight in securing their quarter final place - this might just prove to be the catalyst they need to get their season up and running.