O’Brien rescues a point as Hammers are frustrated by Pulis’ Potters
22:30 19 November 2012
West Ham United 1 Stoke City 1
With some optimistic East Enders already thinking about dusting down their passports, those spoilers from Stoke proved it is simply too early to be casting an ambitious eye towards Europe.
But with a third of the season now gone, the Hammers can still take immense pride as they sit in seventh spot following this hard-fought draw at a sold-out Upton Park.
Netting his third goal of the season, Jon Walters had crafted out a clever first-half opener for the Potters, before Joey O’Brien hit back after the break to bag his first of the campaign and, only the fourth of his entire career, to rescue a point for Big Sam’s side.
The Hammers made two enforced changes from the side that had notched victory at Newcastle United last Sunday as Modibo Maiga and Gary O’Neil came in for the injured duo of Yossi Benayoun (hip) and Matt Jarvis (hip).
And knowing that a back-to-back victory would send them flying up to the heady heights of fifth-place, Big Sam’s side certainly started in lively fashion forcing two early corners. But it was Stoke who were the most menacing in the opening stages with Charlie Adam acrobatically volleying over after Peter Crouch nodded the ball down into his path.
The Potters’ win over struggling Queens Park Rangers last weekend had left them in 14th place and, not surprisingly, Tony Pulis named an unchanged side, which meant that ex-Hammer Matthew Etherington lined up down the left-flank that he used to call home, while magistrate-like, former skipper, Matthew Upson took his all too familiar seat on the bench.
Another West Ham old boy – the late Ron Greenwood – used to say ‘simplicity is genius’ and the highly-respected former Upton Park boss would have been as frustrated as his modern day counterpart, Sam Allardyce, at the ease with which the visitors took their 13th-minute lead, with a well choreographed corner routine.
With everyone expecting a cross towards the giant Potters’ powerhouses in the six-yard box, Glenn Whelan craftily rolled a low corner back into the path of the unmarked Walters, who had cleverly wheeled his way from the far post to the front of the area, where he cracked an unstoppable low 15-yarder past the startled, sleepy Hammers defence.
And, after Andy Carroll headed weakly at Asmir Begovic, on 25 minutes Stoke’s second corner almost produced another goal, when Robert Huth rose highest but Jussi Jaaskelainen reacted brilliantly to claw his bullet header away.
At the other end, Mohamed Diame charged into the area, where Begovic bravely retrieved the ball off the rampaging midfielder’s studs and, the Stoke keeper again denied West Ham an equaliser with an angled stop from Kevin Nolan.
After Ryan Shotton replaced the hobbling Andy Wilkinson and Mark Noble was booked for upending Walters, the visitors came within a whisker of doubling their lead, when Steven N’Zonzi scorched a layer of paint off of the well-beaten Jaaskelainen’s crossbar with a 20-yard volley that crashed down into the six-yard box.
With the half drawing to a close, both Maiga and Diame tried their luck from range in a desperate bid to land a first-half equaliser but their shooting boots deserted them and then straight after the restart, Nolan somehow scuffed George McCartney’s tricky low cross straight to Begovic.
In the end, it was left to the unlikely figure of O’Brien to show his team-mates the way to goal and, on 48 minutes, the patient Diame played in an overlapping O’Neil, whose low cross into the six-yard box was turned in by the Dubliner as Ryan Shawcross tackled thin air.
Certainly, that timely leveller lifted spirits amongst the claret and blue fans in the capacity crowd of 35.005 and with the hitherto comfortable Potters defence now under siege, Carroll, O’Neil and Noble each saw goalbound shots blocked.
A well-worked Hammers corner then saw Diame play in O’Neil, whose clever curler bent just an inch or so around the far post to the frustration of the home faithful.
Diame also fired just wide before substitute Guy Demel – who had replaced goal-scorer O’Brien – blasted behind, too, and then with just five minutes left, Allardyce made a double-switch as Carlton Cole and Matt Taylor came on for the disconsolate Carroll and Maiga but West Ham still could not turn all their second-half pressure into three points.
West Ham: Jaaskelainen, O’Brien (Demel 77), McCartney, Reid, Tomkins, Noble, Diame, Nolan, O’Neil, Maiga (Taylor 85), Carroll (Cole 85) Unused subs: Spiegel, Collins, Hall, Spence.
Stoke: Begovic, Cameron, Wilkinson (Shotton 32), Huth, Shawcross, Walters, Etherington (Kightly 74), Whelan (Palacios 62), N’Zonzi, Adam, Crouch. Unused subs: Sorensen, Jones, Upson, Jerome
Bookings: Noble (37).
Referee: Chris Foy