West Ham 3 Stoke 0: Hammers on the rise after back-to-back victories

06 March 2011 12:51
As he walked back to the dressing room with victory secure, Avram Grant pulled off his claret-and-blue scarf and threw it into the crowd. Just a few weeks ago, they might have flung it right back. This time, they scrambled for the prize.

With back-to-back victories, seven points from the last nine and the relegation places finally below them, times are changing at Upton Park. The pressures which almost buried Grant are now bearing down on Tony Pulis and Stoke.

Hot streak: Demba Ba (right) scores the opening goal for West Ham

The table only hints at theirvulnerability, for their form is abject and their confidence fragile.Without the belief which they once bore like a banner, they have littleto offer. Crude, muscular and predictable, there is more than a touchof desperation about them.

'Everyone's worried about therelegation situation,' said Pulis. 'We have to get to 40 points asquick as we can, then take a look around. It's a tough old league.'

He also offered the view that: 'We need a goal to go in off somebody's backside.'

Doubling up: West Ham's Manuel da Costa (left) celebrates with team-mate Demba Ba (centre)

A difficult trick to bring off butat least it shows original thinking. Which is more than they couldoffer yesterday. For West Ham made them seem slow of mind and heavy offoot. Once or twice in the first half, there were cries of 'Ole!', asWest Ham strung together a move of six or seven passes.

We need a goal of someone's backside!Stoke have failed to score away from home in the Premier League in the last 8hrs 10mins of play and it has contributed to a run of seven matches in which they have won once.

If they continue at that rate they will be in serious relegation trouble.

'We need a goal to go in off somebody's backside,' said manager Tony Pulis, whose side have lost their last six on the road.

Their four shots on target at West Ham were no consolation.

Stoke scarcely assembled that numberof passes in the entire 45 minutes. They attempted little and achievedless.

The nimble West Ham midfield core of Mark Noble, Scott Parker andThomas Hitzlsperger simply dissected them with sure touch andintelligent movement.

The two-goal margin they enjoyed atthe interval was a miserable reward for their unchallenged control. Thedecision to play three central defenders in the back four had the homeannouncer marvelling at 'the tallest West Ham team I've ever seen'.

Butagainst this Stoke side, they looked as slick as Barcelona. The firstcame when Noble's through pass saw Marc Wilson contesting with DembaBa.

The Stoke defender distracted hiskeeper Asmir Begovic, who took a wild swipe at the ball and made nocontact. Ba went stumbling on and stubbed the ball into the empty net.Stoke's discipline started to fray.

After 27 minutes, Wilson was bookedfor bringing down Carlton Cole. Two minutes later, the ponderous RyanShawcross was similarly punished for cutting down Parker.

Hitzlspergersteered the free-kick to the far post, where Manuel da Costa headed thesimplest of chances.

Der Hammer: Thomas Hitzlsperger (second left) scores West Ham's third and final goal

Stoke lifted their game for astretch of the second half but still their only flutter of pressuresprang from the neanderthal ploy which has Rory Delap heaving thatpreposterous throw. That apart, they had little to commend them.

MATCH FACTSWEST HAM (4-5-1): Green; Tomkins, Da Costa, Upson, Bridge; Piquionne, Noble, Parker (Gabbidon 90min), Hitzlsperger,Ba (O'Neil 82); Cole (Obinna 86). Subs (not used): Boffin, Spector, Hines, Jacobsen.

STOKE (4-4-1-1): Begovic; Wilson, Shawcross, Huth, Pugh; Pennant (Etherington 51), Whelan, Whitehead, Delap (Jones 68); Walters; Carew (Fuller 65). Subs (not used): Sorensen, Collins, Diao, Wilkinson. Booked: Wilson, Shawcross, Pugh.

Referee: A Marriner (W Midlands).

West Ham had no fear of losing theball, since they knew that Stoke would return it soon enough, so poorwas their collective touch. In any case, Parker was now organisingaffairs to his own satisfaction; tidy, quick and incisive.

The first authentic Stoke chanceemerged in the 70th minute, when Kenwyne Jones headed wide a cross fromfellow substitute Matthew Etherington. But there was never a time whenStoke seemed capable of retrieving the match, and the third West Hamgoal summed up much of what had gone before.

It arrived after 83 minutes, withParker busily on the overlap to collect a Noble pass and run into thebox at an angle which defied a tackle. He cut the ball back, FredericPiquionne thrashed a shot which was blocked and the ball ran wide toHitzlsperger, whose drive tore into the roof of the net.

It was the kind of goal that Upton Park had feared it might not see again and it was far too much for Stoke.

'The momentum is there,' said Grant.'There is competition for places. The injured players are coming back.I believe in the football we're playing. We knew we could competeagainst good teams.'

They have a daunting number of goodteams still to meet, including Spurs, Chelsea and Manchester City awayand Manchester United and Villa at home. But results like this willpromote belief. Does Grant really think they can survive?

A rare smile: 'I had confidence whenwe were five points behind the rest at the foot of the table,' he said.'I'm more confident now.'

He may have done his share ofworrying for this season. Time for others to start to sweat. AlreadyTony Pulis is mopping his brow.

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Source: Daily_Mail