Much like the previous week’s win over Newcastle United, the first half was described by many a neutral observer as “dire.” This was one point which the media got right- the first period featured few chances either before or after Jon Walters’ excellently-fashioned opener for the Potters, and much of the football on display was not exactly pretty to watch. The game was arguably West Ham’s greatest test of the season, as they came up against a side that have carved out a reputation for themselves in the Barclays Premier League as being a footballing army of sorts; supremely well drilled, organised and difficult to break down.
Prior to City’s opener, the Irons had a couple of chances of note- after about ten minutes, Mobido Maiga- deputising for regular left winger Matt Jarvis, still feeling the hamstring injury which forced him off at St James’ Park last weekend- broke down the left channel and flashed a ball into the box, which ultimately came to nothing. The Mali international was looking sharp, however, and a lot of the Irons early forays into the visitors’ penalty area were channelled through him.
It was something of a surprise, therefore, when Stoke won a corner in front of the Bobby Moore stand- their first of the game, after fifteen minutes. Surprise turned to stunned disbelief when a short ball by ex-Hammer Matty Etherington, as the packed Irons defence expected a long corner to the back post, found the unmarked Ireland international Walters, and he finished with aplomb. Fingers could be pointed at George McCartney for not picking up the former Ipswich Town man before Charlie Adam had the opportunity to block him off and prevent the interception.
It was here that Big Sam’s tactics were really tested- 11 games into the season, and the Irons had only gained something from the game after going a goal down on one occasion. Frequently criticised in the media for lacking a creative spark, the assorted journalists sharpening their knives, ready to sink them into ‘Big Sam’s Boring West Ham,’ seemed to be on the money. Long ball after long ball was pumped towards the pony-tailed head of the increasingly agitated Andy Carroll, painfully aware of his ineffectiveness in the game. The visitors almost doubled their lead five minutes before the break, with the impressive Steven Nzonzi millimetres away from netting with a fierce drive which bounced down off the underside of the bar, and as the half time whistle sounded, it was clear there was much work for the Irons to do in the second half.
No doubt fresh from a civilised Big Sam lecture on the flaws of footballing existentialism, the Hammers came roaring out in the second half. There seemed to be a new energy about the boys, and Kevin Nolan really should have scored from two yards before a Gary O’Neill cross from the right found the unlikeliest of sources in full back Joey O’Brien, who restored parity with a well-placed finish into the roof of the net. The Ireland international’s team mates mobbed him as they celebrated his first West Ham and first ever Premier League goal.
The Irons then tore into Stoke and Maiga should have done a lot better from five yards out and with only Asimir Begovic in the Stoke goal to beat. A well worked play by the corner flag presented O’Neill with an opportunity and his perfectly hit curling shot from the edge of the penalty area was only inches wide of Begovic’s far post with the Bosnian keeper scrambling. The game was all West Ham at this stage and with less than half an hour to go, Stoke boss Tony Pulis succeeded in slowing the game down after bringing on the more defensive-minded Wilson Palacios for Glenn Whelan. Allardyce, in the Hammers dug out, seemed reluctant as ever to risk leaving gaps open at the back by bringing on more attackers, and the sting was taken out of the West Ham attack as a result. Carlton Cole and Matty Taylor were only introduced, rather pointlessly, with five minutes to go, and the game arrived at its inevitable conclusion- a draw which suited Stoke more than the Irons. City, in drawing, set a new club record in the Premier league for away games without a victory: they now have not tasted league victory on the road for 11 games, but will take heart from this point. West Ham were left, perhaps, to rue missed opportunities that they would have put away in another game and now look forward to Sunday’s London derby at White Hart Lane.
Man of the match- Momo Diame, West Ham United
Report by Alex Shilling
WEST HAM UNITED: Jaaskelainen; O’Brien (Demel ’77), Reid, Tomkins, McCartney; O’Neill, Diame, Noble, Nolan, Maiga (Taylor ’85); Carroll(Cole ’85)
Subs: Spiegel, Collins, Demel, Spence, Taylor, Cole, Hall
Begovic; Cameron, Huth, Shawcross, Wilkinson (Shotton ’32); Whelan (Palacios ’62), Nzonzi, Adam, Etherington (Kightly ’74); Walters, Crouch
Subs: Sorensen, Upson, Shotton, Palacios, Kightly, Jones, Jerome
Referee: Chris Foy