x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

'Spurs could win the title'

As Tottenham cruised back into the top four, Gianfranco Zola felt no shame that his West Ham side had been beaten by "one of the best teams in the country".

As Tottenham cruised back into the top four, Gianfranco Zola felt no shame that his West Ham side had been beaten by "one of the best teams in the country". Indeed, the West Ham manager was so impressed by his London rivals that he feels they should be setting their sights even higher than a Champions League spot. "In my view, they are one of the possible surprises for the title," said Zola. "They have everything to be competitive and it will be down to them. This championship is telling us it hasn't got an owner.

"Chelsea are top of the league and struggling a bit for results. It's open for everyone - but maybe not for us." A smile followed that last comment as Zola's side remain in the relegation battle. They were spirited yesterday, but had no answer to Spurs' dominance. Luke Modric, the Croatian schemer making his first start since August after a fractured tibula, opened the scoring in the 11th minute following a sweeping move.

He started it in his own half, finding Aaron Lennon, who cleverly exchanged passes with Jermain Defoe before racing away down the right. The cross fell to Modric, whose connection was not clean, but the ball bounced down into the turf and up over Robert Green. Tom Huddlestone controlled midfield and came close to making it two with one of many efforts on goal, striking the foot of the post. The second goal inevitably came nine minutes from time. Under pressure on the edge of his own box, Wilson Palacios made a perfect challenge to poke the ball away from Alessandro Diamante.

Modric sped away and picked out Defoe. He created some room and smashed a 20-yard shot that Green managed to parry. The England goalkeeper stood no chance with Defoe's follow-up, which he slammed into the roof of the net for his 15th of the season and second in successive games against his former club. Diamante forced Heurelho Gomes into a good save before the end, but Ledley King was assured at the back and helped Spurs keep a fourth successive clean sheet.

"What a player," said Redknapp, of King. "He's one of the best centre-halves in the world. We are lucky in this country with centre-halves like John Terry and Rio Ferdinand, and Ledley is right up there with the very best of them." West Ham's cause was not helped by two injuries in the first 19 minutes. The influential Scott Parker went off with a recurrence of a hamstring problem and Herita Ilunga joined him down the tunnel soon after with the same problem.

The left back had to scurry repeatedly to stop the lively Lennon, who earned warm praise from his manager. "With his pace and his ability, Aaron can cause anybody problems. I think he's gone up a level," said Redknapp. "We keep telling him how good he is and he's playing with confidence. He believes." So do Spurs, according to Redknapp. "I've set goals high and there's no reason why we can't finish in the top four," he adds.

"I brought Modric back in, Ledley and Defoe. They can get in almost any team. The three I've left out are no mugs either. We have a strong squad." Man of the match: Aaron Lennon (Tottenham) @Email:akhan@thenational.ae