This was the night when West Ham remembered Bobby Moore 20 years after his passing yet their hopes of securing the win that would have served as a perfect tribute to the former club captain were ruined by Tottenham's own legend in the making. Gareth Bale was once again in inspired, match-winning form and with a late, dramatic flash of his left boot hauled Spurs above Chelsea and into third place.
That is the influence of Bale on his team right now and here was a display that put those who scoff at suggestions that the Welshman is on comparable terms with Cristiano Ronaldo in their place. He scored twice, set up the visitors' other goal and was a threat throughout the contest. As Sam Allardyce, the West Ham manager, said: "We've been beaten by Gareth Bale."
That may be somewhat insulting to a Spurs side that, while short of their best here, showed character and would have won by a greater margin had it not been for an inspired performance by Jussi Jaaskelainen. Nevertheless, Bale was the undoubted star. The 23-year-old now has 19 goals this season and eight in his past six club appearances.
It is possible that none will prove as important to Spurs's ambitions of qualifying for the Champions League as the one he secured at the death here. The clock had passed 90 minutes and the game was drifting towards a 2-2 draw when Bale, having been clattered by Joey O'Brien, picked himself up, collected a pass from the substitute Tom Carroll and hit a dipping long-range drive that left Jasskelainen flapping at air.
"He [Bale] is unbelievable, a super talent and to see him keep on trying until the last minute exemplifies the talent he is," said André Villas-Boas, the Spurs manager. "He's a tremendous level this season and it's obvious he's enjoying his football. Gareth has the motivation to make sure things only get better."
Asked if he felt Bale should be named this season's PFA player of the year Villas-Boas added: "The award would be fully deserved. He's a contender for sure."
Of that there is no doubt and on a cold night in east London it was Tottenham's No11 who gave this contest its impetus. With the minutes' applause for Moore respectfully observed, it took a while for the action to build, with Spurs content to feel their way into the match. Their measured passing flowed through former Hammer Scott Parker and with Bale lurking just behind Emmanuel Adebayor there was always the danger that the visitors' slow approach could suddenly be raised by the devastating Welshman.
That is indeed what happened on 13 minutes when Guy Demel gave possession away outside the hosts' area and as James Collins backed off, Bale drove a low diagonal drive shot past Jaaskelainen.
Bale then begun to find more and more space as West Ham's petrified defence backed off again and allowed him to fire another shot at goal on 23 minutes. Jaaskelainen this time pulled off a save and moments later his team were level, with Howard Webb judging that Parker's tackle on Carroll was worthy of the penalty. The striker took the set-piece himself, smashing the ball past Hugo Lloris to make it 1-1.
The remainder of the first half was a scrappy affair with West Ham's attempts to build on their equaliser checked by an injury to captain Kevin Nolan. Allardyce later confirmed the midfielder had injured his toe following a challenge from Moussa Dembélé that led to the Belgian receiving a yellow card, with Allardyce insisting he should have ultimately been sent off having been guilty of more bookable offences later on.
The half ended with Jaaskelainen pulling off the first of three excellent saves from Steven Caulker headers and the Finn went on to make more eye-catching stops after the interval, most notably in the 58th minute when having seen Gylfi Sigurdsson's shot hit the post, he clambered to paw away Adebayor's close-range header.
As was typical of this match, West Ham reacted to Spurs pressure by launching direct attacks on their opponents,and it was via such a move that they took the lead for the first time. O'Brien crossed into the area where Joe Cole, having been played onside by Jan Vertonghen, controlled the ball with his left foot before striking it past Lloris with his right.
It was the midfielder's second goal for West Ham since his return to the club and it felt like the perfect climax to a night during which another local hero had been remembered. The hosts should have gone to extend their lead further, but having been put clean through Matt Taylor saw his shot blocked by the outrushing Lloris. "When you're one-on-one with the goalkeeper you've got to score," rued Allardyce. "That was a telling moment and I don't think Tottenham would have come back from that."
Come back they did thanks to Bale. It was his free-kick that led to Sigurdsson making it 2-2 with a far-post finish and then, just as it looked like time had run out, came the stunning climax.
Tottenham now find themselves two points ahead of Chelsea and four ahead of Arsenal prior to next week's north London derby. All eyes, once again, are likely to be on Bale.