Sunday, 13th March 2011
A goal either side of the break was enough to do for Avram Grant's side who, in truth, rarely got out of third gear on a most disappointing afternoon at the Brittania Stadium. However the shocking way in which the Potters went about sealing the win will leave a nasty taste in the mouth for lovers of the beautiful game everywhere.
For given a more astute referee than sub-standard match official Mike Jones, the chances are that neither of Stoke's goals would have been allowed. Indeed, the build-up to both goals would almost certainly have been punished on a rugby field, let alone a football pitch.
Goal One: Robert Huth rose highest to power home a Rory Delay throw-in. However TV replays confirmed that Huth's intended marker, Matthew Upson, was clearly impeded - deliberately - by Jon Walters. Walters, looking away from the ball barged into Upson, allowing Huth a free run on goal.
Goal Two: Huth was again involved as Danny Higginbotham fired a 20-yard free-kick through a mysteriously parting West Ham wall. TV replays confirmed that as Higginbotham pulled the trigger, Huth could be clearly seen pulling Thomas Hitzlsperger aside and to the ground, allowing the defender's shot to pass through the space previously occupied by the German.
But as if Stoke's blatant cheating wasn't enough to contend with, the Hammers may as well have been playing against twelve men throughout the second half.
Referee Jones, who had received an earbashing from Stoke boss Tony Pulis at the interval for having the temerity not to disallow Freddy Piquionne's controversial 30th-minute equaliser clearly couldn't wait to even the score - and waited just 12 SECONDS before gifting Stoke a penalty that never was by way of compensation.
Former Hammer Matthew Etherington waved goodbye to any future warm welcomes at the Boleyn Ground when comically falling to the floor - no doubt on the orders of his manager - having surged into United's penalty box with the first play of the second half.
At least justice was served on this occasion when Rob Green made a magnificent save; not for the first time in his life, Etherington's gamble didn't paid off.
But for as direr as the referee was, West Ham can make no excuses after producing an incredibly poor performance. Having breezed past the same opposition with consummate ease less than a week ago they should have been more than a match for a side who rely on the most primitive of tactics to ensure positive results - a Wimbledon or Bolton for the 2010s, if you will.
Far too many players - including Carlton Cole, Mark Noble and Victor Obinna - failed to turn up and, as a result, the Hammers are facing a second huge Cup disappointment of the season having been dumped out of the Carling Cup at the semi final stage just a few weeks earlier.
Stoke set their stall out from the off with a series of high balls aimed at strikers Jones and Walters. These were dealt with comfortably by the United defence during the opening exchanges until Huth broke the deadlock on 12 minutes.
Given the nature of the 'goal', little blame can be attributed to West Ham's defence although the manner of it should have come as no surprise. Defensive coach Wally Downes, who will have primed his defence to deal with set-plays of this nature watched on grim-faced from the bench as the now unmarked Huth's header hit the back of the net.
Having clawed their way back into the game the Irons got their reward when Piquionne notched a clever equaliser. Once again controversy reigned as a drilled through ball from Hitzlsperger was met by the Frenchman who cooly lobbed the ball over an advancing Thomas Sorensen; the controversy coming as Stoke claimed Piquionne controlled the ball with his arm.
TV replays proved inconclusive - at one angle it appeared to be clear hand-ball whilst another suggested Piquionne has used his shoulder to retain control - although the element of doubt would usually have seen a free-kick awarded in Stoke's favour. Not today however, and 1-1 it remained until the break.
Having survived Etherington's lame dive and subsequent penalty miss West Ham may have been forgiven for thinking that the tide had turned. But homer Jones had other ideas, and when Carlton Cole was penalised for hand ball on 63 minutes - having put his hand in front of his face to prevent his block being knocked off by a free kick 25 yards from goal - you just knew it wasn't going to be West Ham's day.
Scott Parker's sensible arguments were to no avail, and Higginbotham stepped up to fire Stoke into the semi-finals - aided by Huth's illegal - yet crucially, unnoticed - intervention.
In defence of West Ham, Grant's side huffed and puffed until the end; Matthew Upson going closest with a header from a Hitzlsperger corner that pinged against the crossbar. Meanwhile the challenge that saw James Tomkins felled in the penalty box by Walters as the two jostled for position at a free kick was more aggravated assault than mere interference - but referee Jones was unsurprisingly having none of it.
So for Avram Grant and his squad, attention now returns to the league and the battle to avoid relegation. Whilst the two cup runs will have earned the club a great deal of much-needed revenue one can't help feeling a sense of disappointment that neither opportunity to reach Wembley has been taken - although given a choice of Cup success or a Premier League berth next season, there is little doubt which would be preferential for the club.
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A fantastic penalty save; there was little he could do with either goal.
Never shirked his duties in an unfamiliar role.
Sterted poorly against Pennant for the second week in a row but improved.
Manuel Da Costa
A decent performance but he'll have to stop giving away unnecessary free kicks in dangerous areas.
Okay, he was clearly fouled for the first goal - but should a player with Upson's experience allow himself to be shoved aside?
Huffed and puffed and performed more 360s than Stu Thomsen in his heyday but ultimately to no avail.
A quieter game than of recent weeks.
Like his midfield partner Parker he was involved throughout. Notched an assist for Piquionne's goal.
Cole is becoming increasingly like Marmite - either great or awful. Today he was nearer the latter.
Sadly injured upon scoring our only goal of the game. Had given a good account of himself up until that point.
Farly anonymous bar one or two runs. His petulance saw him cautioned yet again and could prove problematic if not addressed soon.
(Replaced Piquionne, 35 mins) Another for whom the game passed him by, even though Specs was playing in his favoured midfield role.
(Replaced Obinna, 68 mins) Back from injury and thrown into the mix to make a difference. He rarely looked like doing so.
(Replaced Noble, 81 mins) No impression bar wasting our last chance to equalise when taking the wrong option.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Luis Boa Morte
Did not play.
Referee: Mike Jones.
Man of the Match: Scott Parker.
West Ham United
Robert Green, James Tomkins, Wayne Bridge, Manuel Da Costa, Matthew Upson, Scott Parker, Mark Noble, Thomas Hitzlsperger, Carlton Cole, Frederic Piquionne, Victor Obinna.
Goals: Frederic Piquionne 30 .
Booked: Victor Obinna 22 Thomas Hitzlsperger 40 Manuel Da Costa 45 .
Sent off: None.
Sorensen, Huth, Higginbotham, Shawcross , Whelan, Delap, Etherington, Wilson, Pennant, Walters, Jones.
Substitutes: Whitehead (Pennant 81), Fuller (Etherington 89), Collins (Jones 89).
Subs not used: Pugh, Diao, Wilkinson, Nash.
Goals: Huth (12), Higginbotham (63).
Booked: Shawcross, Fuller.
Sent Off: None.