Premier League
West Ham United 2 Stoke City 1

Sunday, 28th December 2008
by East Stand Martin

Football at Christmas. Every year the same.

Hans Christian Anderson from London N17 about who Root Vegetable FC are about to sign in the transfer window. Bellamy apparently this time. What is this all about, trying to do business in the media? Surely their retard fans might have worked out by now that it's just a ruse by Daniel "Hands off Berbatov, I'm selling Keane" Levy. They all seem to believe the bloke when he says he's gonna bring in some big names. Slight problem with that. You gotta have a big club to sign a big player. The January window will all end in tears amidst a pavement pizza of lasagne. Mark my words.

Anyway enough of fantasy football North London style. If I want to live in a world of make believe, I'd go to watch my local pantomime. It's called Dick and the Beanstalk, starring Darren Bent and Roman Anatolevich Pavlyuchenko. Free sack of potatoes with every ticket.

Zebra crossing

The object of the Spuds evil intentions was missing today due to suspension, so cue the diminutive Italian whom ESM Jnr and I saw fall over 47 times on his debut at the Hawthorns. Also the almost incredible Boa Morte at CM and Jack Collison at LM and the return of the Beleisha beacon at CD alongside the reliable Matty Upson.

LBM immediately up to his tricks of course, getting mugged and allowing the muscular Fuller to have a run at Collins. Luckily the shot skewed just wide for a corner after what looked like a half block. If that was a warning it went unheeded as a goal followed on 4 minutes from the corner when Faye was found hanging around the far post on a Sunday afternoon stroll. Collins had popped round the corner to get an ice cream, leaving the big man with a free header.

"I've had enough looking at turkeys, and now I've got to watch this", said a neighbouring disgruntled Eaststander. "It's not the turkeys I'm worried about, it's the stuffing", I replied. You want wit, you come to the East Stand. You want glory hunters, stay in the Rio Stand.

Jack Collison did not take too kindly to the audacity of the Premiership's worst away club scoring a goal and immediately set to the task of trying to put things right. He stormed down the left wing, sent a ball in with the outside of his right foot and there was waiting Carlton Cole to make a complete hash of a near post flick when he should have scored.


A couple of minutes later, Parker won a free kick which was slipped surreptitiously to LBM. He just managed to get a pass back from the dead ball line but there were a load of legs swinging with no contact.

Valon Behrami who looks like he's on drugs running round like a man possessed for 90 minutes sent in a great ball from the left on 11 minutes but Stoke skipper Griffin managed to get his head on it and almost inexplicably put it behind for a corner. A highly respectable set piece from LBM saw Upson leap up but head downwards into the turf and past the far post.

Things then went very scrappy, not helped by Stoke's time wasting tactics and attempts to win a throw in for the freak delivery of Delap. It's hard to believe in the modern age that a football team spends half its time trying to get a throw in, but that was what was going on. Great to watch, especially when they then spend about three minutes getting ready to take it. This isn't football, it's netball.

Di Michele then showed something which had not been much in evidence since arriving from Italy - a piece of Di Canio-like skill as he latched onto a ball forward from Faubert on 32 minutes. One bounce and a seamless volley across goal which Cole seemed to misjudge - maybe because he was surprised that the Italian could execute something so sublime. His header went harmlessly over. Just after this, Di Michele got booked for an offence which appeared to be giving the ball back too quickly to Stoke in a fruitless attempt to get them to put the ball back in play in a timely fashion.

Pugh, what an actor

West Ham were really in the hunt for an equaliser now and two great chances arrived in the 36th minute. LBM - who had a pretty decent game today - made a terrific diagonal pass to anticipate an Ilunga dash into the area. He smacked an ideal cross along the six yard line but at least two advancing West Ham players missed the ball. Then Parker hit a good shot after being fed by the ballet feet of Collison, but this hit the chest of a Stoke defender and was then cleared off the line.

The half ended on a typical note after Stoke defender Pugh went down for an eternity following an innocuous looking tackle by Behrami. Even though he was no more than ten inches from the touchline, there seemed no way to prize him off the pitch for treatment so that the thing we had all turned up to pay and watch - a game of football - could continue.

There were a few almost obligatory boos as the half time whistle went, but it was hard to tell whether these were for the failure to break down a determined Stoke defence or for the spoiling anti-football of the visitors. If West Ham ever resorted to playing like that, I will be jumping on the plane to Switzerland to that Dignitas place to ask for a pint of barbiturates and Lucozade.

Wide eyed and pieless

We all know that times are hard at Upton Park, but we must have hit rock bottom if the lack of pies are anything to go by in the so-called refreshment bar in the East Stand. No football on the pitch and no poxy pies or pasties. Who says that the beautiful game aint what it used to be? No Bovril either. Ever felt you're not wanted any more - I was treated better by my ex-missus after she filed for divorce.

Faubert's hint that he might be boarding the cross-Channel ferry for a return to France in the New Year is hardly making any West Ham think of anything except going down to P&O personally and buying the ticket for him. The first few minutes of the second half showed why as the ?6 million man gave the ball away and then made an awful pass.

But then things got a whole lot better on 51 minutes as Parker made an awesome chip forward into the box which Cole brought down, shrugged off the unwelcome attentions of Griffin, turned on a sixpence or its decimal equivalent and curled a beautifully controlled shot into the net. "I told you he wasn't sh*t", said the East Stand's greatest Carlton critic.

I'll scratch your eyes out

In the aftermath of the goal, it all went a bit surreal as Fuller decided to bitch slap Griffin in an apparent blame game for the goal. That piece of impetuosity earned him a red and really dropped his team in it.

Big hearted Behrami went on an energetic run on 56 minutes and sent Faubert on a run down the right wing but the cross was diabolical, even though it somehow curled back to bounce on the top of the crossbar.

Griffin went off on 57 minutes no doubt for a loving reunion with Fuller in the changing room and a minute later LBM won a free kick in a good position on the edge of the box. Di Michele tried to curl it round the wall with not entirely unpredictable results. We tried again from an almost identical position three minutes later but this time LBM's effort was punched easily away.

Agony around the Boleyn Ground followed on 65 minutes after Cole did well to grab a ball in the box and slide it over to LBM whose shot spun across the goal. It was one of those will it won't it go in moments but it was just cleared off the line.

More crowded than Oxford Street

Although we had a man advantage, the ten men behind the ball coupled with constant time wasting undermined everybody's belief that we would get the winner. Ilunga was trying to breach the packed defence, but when he got behind the back 8 on 75 minutes, he couldn't find the killer pass through a sea of legs.

It was time to try something different so Tristan came on for the marginalised Collison and Mullins for the tired looking Parker with just under a quarter of an hour left.

We were largely camped in the Stoke half, but a rare foray by the visitors saw Delap with way too much space in a central position, but his shot was comfortably held by Green who'd been reading the papers and finishing off some knitting for most of the second 45 minutes.

But the pressure finally told with just 4 minutes left after the usual melee in and around the box saw Di Michele slot a nice pass through to Cole who hit it first time with a little helping toe from Tristan to divert past the keeper.

Risen from the dead

Stoke miraculously found some urgency all of a sudden but it all came to nought, although a good opportunity was spurned following a 93rd minute corner. The keeper was up for this one, nodded it back towards the corner, but panic set in and the cross was blasted wildly over.

So that was it; six points over Christmas and a very welcome leg up the table. In the good old days, we never did that well, did we? It was an ugly game to watch but winning ugly is always better than losing or drawing ugly. We now have to wait and see what happens in the transfer window, as the real state of the club's finances and how to best achieve a sale are no doubt keeping Mr Duxberry awake at night. Funny thing is, I bet he sleeps better than most of us do. Happy New Year.

(player ratings by Gordon Thrower)

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Player Ratings

Robert Green
A spectator for most of the match - was probably as cold as I was. Did what he had to do without fuss.

Julien Faubert
Defensively not given much to do. Going forward he got into some good positions but boy does he need lessons in how to cross a ball.

Herita Ilunga
An easy afternoon at the back but when we were going forward he lacked support from the midfield. All too often he was given the ball with nobody alongside to provide extra width.

James Collins
At fault big time for the goal when he left Fuller unattended. Otherwise coped well with Delap's throws.

Matthew Upson
The expected aerial onslaught didn't materialise and he coped well with what little came his way.

Scott Parker
Gave the ball away a bit too much for my liking before his replacement by Mullins late on.

Jack Collison
Got through a lot of running before being sacrificed as we searched for the winner.

Valon Behrami
Tireless. Didn't stop running all day.

Luis Boa Morte
Swapped between the centre of midfield and wide left. Did ok without really dominating. Needs to cut down on the silly tackles though.

Carlton Cole
Some of the stick he's got of late has been ridiculous - one bloke near me had a go when a defender got a brilliant block on him. He missed harder chances than the one it took, it has to be said, and there are times when he could make more of an effort in chasing down defenders. The goal was excellent though.

David Di Michele
Ran around a lot to little effect. Will hopefully only ever be a deputy for Bellamy.


Diego Tristan
(replaced Collison, 77) So he does exist! The goal was streaky but they all count.

Hayden Mullins
(replaced Parker, 77) Came in for the tiring Parker and did his usual job.

Jonathan Spector
(replaced Di Michele, 89) Came on at the death with little time to influence matters.

Jan Lastuvka
Did not play.

Bondz N'Gala
Did not play.

Lee Bowyer
Did not play.

Fred Sears
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Robert Green, Julien Faubert, Herita Ilunga, James Collins, Matthew Upson, Scott Parker, Jack Collison, Valon Behrami, Luis Boa Morte, Carlton Cole, David Di Michele.

Goals: Carlton Cole 51 Diego Tristan 88                .

Booked: Carlton Cole 23 Luis Boa Morte 32 David Di Michele 36      .

Sent off: None.

Stoke City: Sorensen, Griffin, Abdoulaye Faye, Shawcross, Higginbotham, Delap, Olofinjana, Whelan, Pugh, Cresswell, Fuller.

Subs not used: Simonsen, Lawrence, Soares, Tonge, Sonko.

Goals: Faye (5).

Booked: Olofinjana (45), Higginbotham (65), Faye (73).

Sent off: None.

Referee: Michael Jones.

Attendance: 34,477.

Man of the Match: Valon Behrami.