Defoe was wasteful in front of goal, missing chance after chance as Tottenham missed out on three points that they needed as they battle Chelsea and Manchester City for a place in the Champions League next season.
West Ham truly deserved their point with a strong defensive performance - in particular from Wayne Bridge, Matthew Upson and Robert Green - as they climbed out of the relegation zone. Indeed they could even have taken all three points had their own frontman Carlton Cole not wasted a gilt-edged opportunity early in the first half.
A sun-drenched day in north London started quickly, with Tottenham on the front foot from the off. A free-kick deep in West Ham’s half was partially cleared to Michael Dawson on the edge of the area, who beautifully curved a shot goalwards, only to see it crash onto the crossbar and over.
After only six minutes, Spurs almost scored again. The ball was spread out wide to Gareth Bale, who took on Lars Jacobsen – the right back destined for a busy day – and his cross was met by Defoe, whose smart run across the back of Manuel Da Costa was let down slightly by the finish, trickling just past the post.
West Ham’s first real chance came in the 14th minute, as Thomas Hitzlsperger played a lofted pass over the top of Tottenham’s back-line for Cole, who attempted to lob Heurelho Gomes, but could only place his shot high and wide when a header might have been the better option.
Chances were coming at both ends, as first Rafael van der Vaart hit a stinging volley just wide after Luka Modric’s corner, then at the other end Cole spurned the greatest opportunity of the match.
After a good diagonal run from Cole, and an expert through ball from Demba Ba, Cole was through with only Gomes to beat, but his shot was poor, almost passing it straight into the arms of Gomes, and Cole remained one short of his best ever goalscoring total of 12 in a single season.
For the next 15 minutes the game seemed to settle down, with Aaron Lennon and Bale switching wings. It didn’t seem to be a successful tactic, until Lennon ran at Jacobsen, before cutting in to shoot.
The ball beat two defenders and Green before rebounding off the post to Defoe only four yards out. The ball came back at the England striker too quickly, however, and he dragged his shot wide when Tottenham should have been a goal to the good.
The first half ended with a whimper, with both sides content to get in at the break without conceding.
Firing blanks | Van der Vaart challenges Noble in White Hart Lane stalemate
The second, however, started with a bang, with first West Ham, then Spurs testing the goalkeepers. Cole was again the dangerman for West Ham, turning William Gallas on the edge of the area before hitting a shot through Gallas’ legs which Gomes did well to parry away.
Then Green made a stunning save as the ball was worked to Defoe by Bale only four yards out. The ‘keeper hit the deck, stretching out a leg to tip Defoe’s shot away from goal.
Mark Noble came close minutes later with an overhead kick, his effort just going wide. However, it may have been better to leave the ball for Cole, who had set himself for a volley. Though based on his previous efforts, Noble was perhaps correct to take it on himself.
Gomes was called into action 10 minutes later to make a stunning save from Demba Ba. Ba had picked up the ball from captain Scott Parker, and hit a piledriver from 25 yards that the Brazilian got his fingertips to, and pushed round the post.
Noble had a good opportunity to open the scoring in the 70th minute, as Cole found him on the edge of the area. Noble dummied a defender and cut into the area, but his shot was well off target after he elected to curl the ball with the outside of his right foot.
If the first half had been pulsating, the second was tighter, with chances harder to come by as both teams attempted to keep it tight and steal a goal on the break.
With 10 minutes to go, substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko tested Green twice in the space of a minute, first with a good save low to his right, and then as the Russian blasted in another shot, Green could not get his hands up in time, but fortunately for the England ‘keeper it was straight at his chest.
West Ham were battling hard in defence in the last 10 minutes, with Upson in particular excelling. But it was Green who they had to thank yet again, as Bale lined up a free-kick 20 yards from goal.
It was a near-perfect free-kick from the Welshman, getting the ball over the wall and heading for the top corner, only for Green to palm his effort onto the bar, with Jacobsen racing in to mop up afterwards.
When Defoe blazed over with two minutes remaining on the clock, it seemed as if the game was destined to head for a goalless draw. He had another chance only seconds later, and would have scored but for the timely intervention from Bridge, who was beginning to show some of the form that led to him battling Ashley Cole for the England left-back slot.
The final whistle will have left a bitter taste in the mouths of Spurs fans, who should really be beating teams of the calibre of West Ham if they are to reach the top four again this year; but on the balance of play a loss would have been extremely harsh on the Hammers, who defended well enough to earn a much-needed point.
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