LONDON, December 28 – Luka Modric made a fantastic return for Tottenham Hotspur as his goal set them on course for a 2-0 win over West Ham at White Hart Lane here on Monday.Victory saw Spurs leapfrog Aston Villa into fourth place in the Premier League table with a fourth straight clean sheet, although the Midlands club will be back among the leading quartet if they beat Liverpool on Tuesday.
Croatia midfielder Modric in his first start since August, when he suffered a broken leg against Birmingham City, took just 11 minutes to make his mark with the opening strike.
There was agony for relegation-threatened West Ham as Scott Parker and Herita Ilunga both then had to be substituted within the first 19 minutes, allowing the home side to dominate this London derby.
But Tottenham took until the 81st minute to wrap up all three points when Jermain Defoe struck a ferocious drive beyond Hammers goalkeeper Robert Green.
It was the England striker’s 14th league goal of the season and left him out in front as the Premiership’s top scorer.
West Ham, who moved out of the relegation zone with a victory over basement club Portsmouth on Boxing Day, experienced a wretched start to this match.
After Parker dragged an eighth minute shot wide, he suffered what appeared to be a recurrence of a hamstring injury and was replaced by Luiz Jimenez.
To make matters worse, Spurs took the lead while he was limping around.
Modric initiated the move from just outside the Spurs area before Defoe fed Aaron Lennon.
The in-form England international raced down the right side, away from Matthew Upson, and then dragged a cross along the edge of the six-yard box.
West Ham’s James Tomkins failed to block the ball and Modric stubbed a shot that bounced high into Green’s net.
To rub salt into West Ham wounds, their Italian manager Gianfranco Zola was then forced another substitution as Ilunga exited and Jonathan Spector came on.
Tottenham went on to dominate the rest of the half but Tom Huddlestone missed an opportunity to double the score before Peter Crouch had an effort diverted wide and Defoe fired a fantastic free-kick just over the crossbar.
West Ham’s only real chance fell to midfield player Jack Collison, but his long range effort was easily kept out by Brazilian goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes.
The Hammers had not won at White Hart Lane for ten years, and there was no sign of that statistic getting any better for them after half-time.
They were on the back foot from the restart, as Huddlestone and Lennon both fired early shots off target and Wilson Palacios had a goalbound drive deflected wide off Upson.
At times it looked as though Tottenham were playing against ten men as
they moved the ball around with such ease, and they came agonisingly close to a second goal in the 55th minute when Huddlestone hit the post from inside the area following a Vedran Corluka pass.
Corluka himself could have scored in the 66th minute when, after Green lost his bearings, he looped a header onto the roof of the net.
At only 1-0 up, nervous Tottenham fans feared their side might be made to pay for not making the most of their opportunities.
But Defoe eased the tension among the home supporters at White Hart Lane nine minutes from time.
Lennon fed the forward, and Defoe ran across edge of the box before smashing an effort at Green. The ball bounced back off the keeper’s chest and Defoe rammed home the rebound.