Hammers win Cup rehearsal
By Tom Dowsett
Sunday 06 Mar 2011 13:14:00
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West Ham United are out of the relegation zone in the Barclays Premier League and have conjured up back to back wins for the first time this season after a 3-0 victory over Stoke City at Upton Park on Saturday afternoon.

Trying to match Stoke's aerial threat, Avram Grant made two changes from last weekend's success over Liverpool by bringing in Manuel Da Costa and Carlton Cole in place of Lars Jacobsen and Gary O'Neil who both dropped to the bench.

The game got underway and from very early on Cole tested Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic by shooting left-footed but his tame effort went narrowly wide of the post.

After a bright start from West Ham the tables then turned and it was Stoke who had the first real effort on goal when Jon Walters sent a cross in from the left wing which was heading goalwards on eleven minutes. Robert Green, however, did well to palm it behind.

Stoke then continued to pile on the pressure as Jermaine Pennant won a corner which was headed clear by Frederic Piquionne, but only to see the visitors win another corner. Pennant tried once more but it was again cleared, this time by Demba Ba for a throw in. Rory Delap then produced one of his famous long throws, when he hurled the ball in, but James Tomkins was on hand to clear the danger for the third time.

This match had similarities to the Carling Cup tie played between the two sides back in September 2010, the only difference this time was that the Hammers went in front, as Ba took advantage of a Stoke defensive mix-up between Begovic and Marc Wilson and sloted the ball into an empty net for the easiest of finishes.

From then on the home side never looked back and Stoke's game plan was out of the window, as the Hammers excerted further pressure and minutes later it was 2-0 as Da Costa rose highest to power a header past Begovic.

On 35 minutes the Hammers came close to increasing their advantage when Wayne Bridge's cross was headed clear, but only to Ba whose pass took a ricochet to Frederic Piquionne, when he was both in on goal and unmarked but his effort only found the side netting.

Just before half time Begovic made a spectacular save from Thomas Hitzlsperger's free-kick after Da Costa did well to earn the award of the set-piece after winning a challenge with John Carew, however, the resulting corner was easily cleared at the near post.

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At the start of the second half the Hammers continued to keep up the tempo. A glowing example of this came just three minutes in, when Tomkins hit the post from a narrow angle after Hitzlsperger had crossed following good attacking play from Mark Noble. From the attack, Cole tried to set up Ba, but Robert Huth managed to knock the ball out of play.

Minutes later Stoke made a substitution as Tony Pulis introduced former Hammer Matthew Etherington in to the action, as he entered the field of play he was greeted by applause from the majority of the crowd.

On 54 minutes more trouble was to follow for Scott Parker. He was already playing with a shoulder injury, but now when he conceded a corner he inadvertantly clashed with captain Matthew Upson and hit the advertising hoardings. Thankfully the midfielder was okay to continue, though.

Three minutes later another of Delap's trademark long throws caused problems for the Hammers' defense, but Green was alert to the danger and produced a strong hand to beat the ball away.

A minute after Kenwyne Jones had been thrown on, he almost scored with his first touch as a misplaced clearance from Parker was pounced on by Etherington who crossed, but Jones' header flashed just wide of the far post.

Another chance for Cole came on 81 minutes as Hitzlsperger's first time shot bounced out to Tomkins whose clever movement set up the striker for an effort that just went wide of the far post.

A minute later O'Neil came on for Ba who received an ovation from all sides of the stadium.

The way West Ham were playing it was thought that it wouldn't be too long before a third goal arrived and a minute later the three points were sealed when Noble (who it had to be said, was outstanding all afternoon) released Parker who then ran down the byline to pull the ball back for Piquionne whose shot was blocked. Hitzlsperger reacted the quickest and unleashed a shot that nearly broke the net to claim his first Premier League goal for the club.

On 86 minutes Ricardo Fuller almost grabbed a consolation goal for Stoke but his powerful effort went wide of the far post. Grant then threw on Victor Obinna in place of Cole.

As the game entered stoppage time and with seconds before the final whistle, Grant introduced Danny Gabbidon in place of Parker.

Gabbidon didn't get a touch however, as the final whistle was blown, meaning the Hammers have now given themselves a fighting chance of staying up. However, Stoke will be looking for revenge next week as they take on the Hammers for a place in the Quarter-Finals of the FA Cup next Sunday.

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