EAST END ACTION: Stoke held West Ham yesterday
WEST HAM’s search for home comforts continued in a turgid contest that was almost void of inspiration. A Glenn Whelan own goal, forced by Dimitri Payet and Michail Antonio, on 65 minutes was cancelled out ten minutes later as substitute Bojan Krkic emphatically capitalised on an error from Adrian in the West Ham goal.
Krkic’s equaliser saw the gloom return West Ham’s new home, while the Metropolitan Police continued to stand in position in and around the away sections of the stands. All were keen to prevent a repeat of the trouble that marred West Ham’s EFL Cup defeat of Chelsea last week.
West Ham’s next four Premier League outings see them face Tottenham, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool it is difficult to shift the sense that this was an opportunity missed, regardless of the self-inflicted nature of Stoke’s equaliser.
With most observers keeping half an eye on the stands, the first half trundled along. Andre Ayew returned from injury but has had little time to forge an understanding with his teammates, who found themselves struggling for space against a compact Stoke.
Payet should have done better with a free-kick in first half added time but this was not one of those occasions when he shone brighter than his less illustrious teammates.
The visitors were without the suspended Marko Arnautovic and Mark Hughes was unlikely to go gung-ho in pursuit of a fourth consecutive Premier League win. It did not make for pretty viewing but the Potters would likely have held out for a clean sheet where it not for an unfortunate deflection.
Payet shimmied down the left, bamboozled Jon Walters, and pitched a ball in the direction of Michail Antonio. The winger seldom needs help with his headers but his glanced effort came off Whelan’s shoulder and went in off the post.
It seemed to lift West Ham, although the wind was soon taken out of their sails. Charlie Adam lofted a ball over their ponderous backline for Walters to hare after. The home defence may have been slow but Adrian rushed out to halt the Stoke forward. In the split second before the goalkeeper clattered into him, Walters managed to loop the ball onto Krkic, who evaded his marker to apply the finishing touch.
It was a moment of craft and composure from a player who has drawn criticism for his poor form in recent outings. Few complained when Krkic started the afternoon on the bench but his intervention ensured that Stoke extended their unbeaten run to six matches dating back to September.
It is a remarkable turnaround for a team that shipped four goals on three occasions in their first five matches of the campaign. With Bournemouth, Watford and Burnley up after the international break their run seems less arduous than that of West Ham.
Both sides sought a later winner and Adam’s shot, pushed around the post by an Adrian looking to make amends, was about as close as either came.
This match will not live long in the memory.