Antonio Conte has had one route to cup glory unceremoniously closed off this week. The Tottenham manager was never going to allow another one to slip through his fingers.
Conte remains furious at how his club’s Europa Conference League campaign ended on Monday – in the forfeiting of the final group phase tie against Rennes after Covid positives ripped through the dressing-room – and he wants a solution via the courts.
Spurs got the job done in more conventional fashion here, responding to Conte’s urgings to secure a frantic derby victory. Roared on by 5,700 travelling fans, West Ham played a full part in a proper cup tie, Jarrod Bowen – who scored a fabulous equaliser – in fine form and the captain, Declan Rice, a remorseless driving presence.
Neither deserved to be on the losing team and West Ham will wonder how they let this tie get away from them. They played on the front foot for long spells, particularly in the second half, and had 22 shots to Spurs’ 14. They had several big chances.
Yet it is Tottenham who advance to a Carabao Cup semi-final with Chelsea, pitting Conte against his former club, and they had one of their forgotten men to thank – the lesser-spotted Steven Bergwijn.
Starting his first game under Conte and his first for the club since 27 October, which was the 1-0 win at Burnley in the previous round of this competition, the winger came to life in the first half, scoring the opening goal and laying on what proved to be the winner for Lucas Moura.
Bergwijn has struggled with injuries and largely flattered to deceive after joining Spurs from PSV Eindhoven in January of last year. He has been touted for another move next month and so his performance was timely – either to convince Conte to persist with him or to alert potential suitors.
David Moyes had wondered whether it might be West Ham’s year in the competition, his team having beaten both Manchester clubs to set up this game, but he would be disabused of the notion, the sense it was not his night crystalising in stoppage time. The substitute Andriy Yarmolenko cut inside and saw his shot deflect, loop up and drop towards the far corner, with Hugo Lloris scrambling back. The ball skimmed the crossbar and went behind.
For the corner Alphonse Areola came up and the ball would reach the goalkeeper but there would be no twist in the tale. West Ham have reached only three cup semi-finals in all competitions since 1991.
The strange thing about Bergwijn’s evening was that it began badly; his touch heavy, his passing awry. He looked low on confidence and the crowd chuntered. Everything changed on 28 minutes when Pierre-Emile Højbjerg accepted a layoff from him and drove up the right-hand side of the area. The midfielder might have shot but, instead, he played a pass back inside with disguise for Bergwijn to finish from close range.