LONDON • It was billed as the day that Tottenham Hotspur could go top of the league at this stage in a season for the first time since 1964 and charge towards their first top-flight title in 55 years.
Instead, Spurs lost 0-1 at West Ham. With Arsenal and Manchester City also failing to pick up a point, Leicester City's title dream moved closer to reality as their lead stretched thanks to their 2-2 home draw with West Brom on Tuesday.
West Ham led through Michail Antonio's header after seven minutes and the visitors rarely looked like getting back on level terms, struggling to break down their London rivals' stubborn defence.
But Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino refused to blame nerves for the loss, despite his team appearing anxious throughout a one-sided first half.
"No, (not nerves)," he said after Tottenham failed to register a single shot in the opening half of a league match for only the second time in 13 years.
"We made some mistakes that, normally, we don't make. It was difficult and we were poor. We conceded the goal and it was very difficult. West Ham played better than us."
The Argentinian admitted that his men failed to deal with West Ham's "long ball" approach as their six-match winning run came to an end at Upton Park.
"Always it is difficult, it was a game that was more physical than others, in the way that they play, always this long ball, and they try to fight in every action, and they are very strong," Pochettino added.
"For us it was difficult for the way that we want to play, and the pitch doesn't help us. But in the second half we had more freedom, played better and created chances."
Spurs woke up after the break and striker Harry Kane failed to connect on two chances, the first of which he fluffed from point-blank range.
It was Tottenham's first away defeat since the opening weekend of the season and their first league setback since mid-January when they lost at home to Leicester City.
West Ham remain unbeaten at home and are now only a point behind fourth-placed Manchester City, who have a game in hand.
Hammers manager Slaven Bilic, however, has played down West Ham's chances of qualifying for the Champions League.
"This season it's not realistic but there's nothing wrong with dreaming about it or trying to achieve it," he told the club's website.
"I hope we can aim for Champions League in the future, and in the long term I don't have a problem saying it should be part of the plan, what with moving to the new stadium and with all the revenue and the fans and the size of the club."
West Ham travel to Goodison Park to take on 11th-placed Everton in the league on Saturday, when Spurs welcome Arsenal to White Hart Lane.
Spurs can still top the division, for a few hours at least, by winning the north London derby.
REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN