West Ham Utd earned their credentials as European contenders and true top-of-the-table battlers in an impressive 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday night.
Manager Slaven Bilic was in no doubt in his verdict.
He said: “We were fantastic. It was maybe the best performance so far. In every aspect it was the perfect game. From the first whistle we were on the front foot and dominating and on our front foot.”
While the scoreline – and the scorer (Michail Antonio) – might have been the same as the match against Sunderland on Saturday, the opponents and the circumstances were very different. West Ham denied their London rivals a chance to go top of the Premier League.
It may have been Antonio’s early goal that settled nerves – or frayed them further – but either way West Ham put on an impressive display to confirm their status as a legitimate top six side.
Admittedly, Spurs were off their game but it was the kind of match that, in previous years, the Irons would have consoled themselves with a point. But Antonio, on prolific form, heading in a corner from Dimitri Payet – another assist – to put them one point behind shaky Manchester Utd in fifth.
Spurs have not been top since 1964 and maybe it was stage-fright that took the edge off the north Londoners normally blitzing approach. But they stuttered, lost rhythm and when they found Harry Kane upfront he was surprisingly off-key.
For West Ham, no-nonsense old boys James Collins and Mark Noble are relishing life under the Croatian and form the backbone that allows the likes of Manuel Lanzini, Antonio and new boy Emmanuel Emenike to have a go.
Bilic said: “To match Spurs you have to play well, but to outplay them and win was magnificent.
“Maybe I’m biased but they should be more happy with the result than us, because it could have been more.
“In all aspects of football we were magnificent and I congratulate the players.”
A kiss from comedian Russell Brand might not have been the high point of the evening but even normally pragmatic Bilic must be wondering what’s possible with this side.
He told the club’s website: “I hope we can aim for Champions League in the future, and 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.
“We are not approaching the remainder of the season thinking we’re aiming to quality for the Champions League. On the contrary, we’re down on the Earth and concentrating on facing Everton on Saturday.”