West Ham United 3 – 0 Stoke City
March 6, 2011 1 Comment
West Ham hauled themselves out of the Premier League drop zone as Stoke pressed the self-destruct button at Upton Park.The Hammers made it back-to-back league wins for the first time in more than a year to stay on course to complete a great escape from relegation.
Demba Ba was gifted his fourth goal in just five appearances after a calamitous Stoke mix-up, the recalled Manuel da Costa made it 2-0 and Thomas Hitzlsperger smashed in a late third to inflict a club record sixth straight away league defeat on the visitors.
The game was the first of back-to-back meetings between the two sides, who are also set to clash for the fourth time this season in the FA Cup quarter-finals a week on Sunday.
The Hammers had come out flying against Liverpool last week and looked set to do the same today when the recalled Carlton Cole – playing in a three-man attack – mis-hit a left-foot volley wide. But Stoke soon began to take charge and could easily have gone ahead when Robert Green tipped over Jon Walters’ flicked finish from Rory Delap’s low cross.
The Hammers’ three-man attack was making almost no impact but Stoke were the architects of their own demise in the 21st minute when Ba was gifted his latest goal. There looked little danger when Mark Noble played the ball through but Asmir Begovic and Marc Wilson got in each other’s way trying to clear and Ba outmuscled the latter to bundle it into the net.
Wilson’s woes were quickly compounded when he was booked for hauling down Cole, with Ba seeing a shot blocked following the resulting free-kick. Potters captain Ryan Shawcross followed in the 29th minute for a poor tackle on Scott Parker and this time the visitors were made to pay.
Hitzlsperger curled in the left-footed free-kick and Da Costa rose unchallenged at the far post to power home a header, his second goal against Stoke this season and first in the Premier League for 11 months.
West Ham were rampant and Frederic Piquionne missed a great chance to make it 3-0 when he hit the side-netting after a shot deflected straight to him.
Danny Pugh became the third Stoke player yellow carded before Hitzlsperger unleashed a trademark volley on the stroke of half-time that was tipped over by Begovic.
A desperate Robert Huth clearance prevented Ba pouncing early in the second half and James Tomkins nodded against the outside of the post from the resulting corner.
Stoke soon threw on former Hammers winger Matthew Etherington for Jermaine Pennant and Green then produced an ugly parry from Delap’s long-range drive as Stoke finally managed another shot on target, while Begovic was at full stretch to tip Cole’s curler around the post at the other end.
West Ham were looking content to play on the break and their opponents tried to add more pace to their own attacks when the ineffective John Carew was replaced by Ricardo Fuller.
Stoke’s defence dropped another clanger midway through the half when Shawcross’ attempt to nod the ball back to Begovic was seized upon by Cole, but this time the goalkeeper recovered to save.
Jones immediately replaced Delap as Potters boss Tony Pulis played his final card and the new man soon flicked a header inches wide from fellow substitute Etherington’s cross.
Jones was making an impact, feeding Walters for a 20-yard shot straight at Green, who then reacted well at the feet of the latter after the ball ricocheted to the forward.
Cole shaved the post with a left-foot strike as West Ham tried to kill off the Stoke fightback before Ba was withdrawn to a standing ovation for Gary O’Neil.
The game was over seven minutes from time when Piquionne’s shot from Parker’s cutback was blocked and Hitzlsperger thundered in the rebound.
Fuller went close to a consolation with a curler and Victor Obinna came on for Cole and Danny Gabbidon replaced Parker as West Ham comfortably ran down the clock.
Avram Grant declared West Ham had ”momentum at the right time” after watching them haul themselves out of the Barclays Premier League drop zone by crushing Stoke 3-0.
”We have momentum at the right time,” said Grant, who admitted his side’s current scoring run would not continue indefinitely. We will not score three goals every game, that’s for sure. Nobody is doing this.
”I believe in this football, I believe in attacking football. You need balance, and we’re getting the balance better and better every game. But we have many players forward that can score now.”
Grant demonstrated the faith he has in his forwards by fielding a three-pronged attack today, with Demba Ba once again stealing the limelight with his fourth goal in five matches since signing from Hoffenheim. Ba was set to join Stoke in January but the Senegal international failed a medical, prompting the Potters to pull out of the deal.
Grant said: ”I’m very happy that they did. Nobody knew about Demba before I wanted to sign him. Even Stoke and Everton and other teams that wanted him, I don’t think they knew who he was. At the end of the day, he came to the team that wanted him from the beginning.”
Summer signing Thomas Hitzlsperger also rattled in his second goal in three games following his recovery from the injury that prevented him from playing for his new club until last month.
Grant, who brought in four players in the January transfer window, said: ”Thomas is like a fifth signing in January. He’s had a big impact because, with him, our midfield has more balance. He knows how to defend, he can pass the ball, he can score like today.
”He’s important for us but I must say all the new signings are doing well, and also the players that played before.”
Grant insists he never once stop believing his side could survive, even when they appeared marooned at the foot of the table, adding: ”We were confident that we would do it.”
Stoke boss Tony Pulis was left to reflect on the irony of Ba’s success at Upton Park but refused to criticise his own club’s doctors.
”You never criticise people for doing what they have to do in good faith,” he said. ”The medical side said what they had to say and you get on with it.
”Up until the two goals, especially the first one, I thought we were well in the game. If anything, we probably had more control of the game.
”Then we gave a silly goal away and they scored again from a set play, which is disappointing from our point of view. From then on, they deserved to win it.”
Stoke’s defeat was a club record sixth on the bounce away from home in the league and left them just three points above their opponents.
Pulis admitted his side were now in the thick of the relegation dogfight, adding: ”My argument is we have to get to 40 points as quickly as we can and then look at the table from there. If you’re always looking over your shoulder or looking at what other teams are doing, you take your eye off the ball with respect to what you’ve got to achieve.”