Hammers book their place in Carling Quarter-Finals

West Ham came from behind to beat Stoke City in extra time and storm into the last eight of the Carling Cup

West Ham United 3 Stoke City 1 (after extra time)

ON A nail-biting night of drama at Upton Park, extra-time strikes by Manuel Da Costa and Victor Obinna finally ensured that the West Ham United ball can proudly take its place in Saturday’s Carling Cup quarter-final draw writes STEVE BLOWERS.

After the sensational Scott Parker had eventually wiped out an early header from Kenwyne Jones, with just seven minutes of normal time remaining, the Portuguese defender and on-loan Nigerian striker then lifted the roof off the Boleyn Ground to leave the East End dreaming of a trip down Wembley way.

Having already accounted for Oxford United and Sunderland in the previous rounds, Avram Grant fittingly made eight switches from the team that had slumped to defeat against Newcastle United on Saturday, as he went in search of a last-eight place.

Marek Stech, Tal Ben-Haim, James Tomkins, Julien Faubert, Radoslav Kovac, Pablo Barrera, Benni McCarthy and Luis Boa Morte came in for the cup-tied Lars Jacobsen, Matthew Upson (hamstring), Frederic Piquionne (jarred knee), Danny Gabbidon (rested) plus substitutes Robert Green, Mark Noble, Valon Behrami and Obinna.

With all those new faces still introducing themselves to each other, Stoke wasted no time in taking a sixth-minute lead, when Kovac denied the breaking Tuncay, only for Jermaine Pennant to plant the consequent corner on to the head of a jumping Jones, who easily beat Stech from six yards.

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The Potters, who had already seen off Shrewsbury Town and Fulham made half-a-dozen changes from the side that had lost to Manchester United at the Britannia Stadium on Sunday as Asmir Begovic, Danny Higginbotham, Glenn Whelan, Tuncay, Dean Whitehead and Andy Wilkinson each earned call-ups.

And having secured that early advantage, City were soon in the Hammers penalty area once more, where the teasing Tuncay was ambushed as he shaped to shoot and, midway through the half, the talented Turk would also send a powerful header just a whisker past Stech’s right-hand post.

These opening exchanges were certainly not what the home fans amongst an initially critical half-term crowd of 25,304 had ordered but, on 13 minutes, Carlton Cole did rustle up some cheers, when he re-directed Barrera’s wayward shot just inches over the top, while McCarthy sent a stooping header comfortably into Begovic’s gloves, before Parker’s attempted 18-yard lob was too high.

Although Ben-Haim’s carelessly underhit backpass forced the sliding Stech to deny Jones, Grant’s men gradually began to pose more threat to Tony Pulis’ side.

Firstly, Da Costa headed Barrera’s well-flighted corner over the bar and then Cole’s shot on the turn flashed inches wide, but as the Hammers trudged off, trailing at the break, the talk of the terraces was McCarthy’s stoppage-time air-shot, that only needed a touch from the stumbling South African, who was just six yards from goal.

Just after the restart, Glenn Whelan’s low 18-yarder was deflected wide after another Pennant corner created some nervous moments in the home defence, while at the other end, the purposeful Parker was embarking on a one-man mission to bring some Carling cheer to the East End.

And after forcing a corner with a marauding run, the skipper could only look on as Tomkins met Barrera’s deep cross with a diving header that flew wide of the right-hand post.

The Potters curiously responded by throwing on Danny Pugh for Pennant and then Jones stood down for Eidur Gudjohnsen, who was instantly reminded by the locals that he has not been forgiven for choosing Tottenham Hotspur over the Hammers, last season.

After Tuncay forced Stech to brilliantly claw out his near-post snapshot, the relieved Begovic then saw Parker’s low, 20-yarder scorch past the base of his right-hand upright.

With 25 minutes remaining, Obinna replaced Kovac and then Noble and Behrami came on for Boa Morte and McCarthy as Grant tellingly strengthened his 4-4-2 formation.

The orange-booted Obinna unleashed a thunderous 20-yarder that Begovic parried at full stretch and another steam-rollering run from Parker saw the Stoke keeper scrambling across goal to gather.

By now, West Ham were certainly looking the stronger side and the departure of Tuncay left toothless Stoke looking to protect their fragile lead rather than trying to double it.

Only one team was going to score and, sure enough, with just seven minutes left, Barrera’s left-wing cross was glanced home at the near post by the leaping Parker, to the delight of the claret and blue fans, who had seen their super-charged skipper ride to the rescue in the nick of time to force extra-time.

Five minutes into that additional half-hour, Noble was allowed to weave his way along both the touchline and by-line and, as the statuesque Stoke defence looked on, the midfielder cleverly cut the ball back to Da Costa, who nearly ripped the net off its hooks from eight yards.

With Stoke’s only hope now resting on a string of predictable long-throws from substitute Rory Delap, Noble invited Obinna to out-sprint Wilkinson and confirm Hammers place in the quarter-final draw with a shot that gave the helplessly exposed Begovic no chance.

HAMMERS: Stech, Faubert, Ben Haim, Tomkins, Da Costa, Boa Morte (Behrami 71), Parker, Kovac (Obinna 64), Barrera, McCarthy (Noble 71), Cole. Unused Subs: Green, Reid, Ilunga, Nouble.

STOKE CITY: Begovic, Wilkinson, Higginbotham, Shawcross, Huth, Pennant (Pugh 56), Walters, Whelan, Whitehead, Jones (Gudjohnsen 58), Tuncay (Delap76) Unused Subs: Nash, Soares, Tonge, Abdoulaye Faye

Referee: Howard Webb. Attendance: 25,304.

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