Hammers crash out of FA Cup
Stoke City 2 West Ham United 1
WHAT A difference a week makes.
Last Saturday, West Ham played Stoke off the park in the Premier League and cruised to a 3-0 victory. This time round it was the Potters who were calling the shots and they proved full value for their place in the semi-finals of the FA Cup.
Perhaps it was for the best. The Hammers have a league survival battle to worry about and a trip to Wembley may hamper that, but it would have been easier to take if West Ham had actually shown some of the form on their travels that they have shown at Upton Park in recent matches.
In truth, Stoke could have been two or three up at the break, and had the luxury of a missed penalty, before they finally took the chance to secure victory
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The home side could have been in front as early as the second minute. Jermaine Pennant was allowed to cross from the right with impunity and he picked out former Hammer Matty Etherington whose header was magnificently saved by Robert Green.
Stoke grabbed the lead after just 12 minutes and it was a goal synonymous with their style of play. Rory Delap hurled in his second long throw of the match and defender Robert Huth arrived late and unmarked to power his header into the net from six yards out.
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The Potters were in total control at that point and should have added to their tally, but on the half hour West Ham were thrown a lifeline with a controversial equaliser.
Thomas Hitzlsperger launched a ball forward towards the sprinting Freddie Piquionne, but the Frenchman seemed to control the ball with his hand before slipping a shot past Thomas Sorensen and into the net to make it 1-1.
The Stoke players surrounded referee Mike Jones to protest, but the goal stood, while four minutes later the goalscorer was forced off with the injury he suffered while forcing the ball over the line.
The goal seemed to give West Ham some confidence and they played some decent passing football as Scott Parker and Mark Noble looked to take control of the game.
Stoke did go close right on half time when Jonathan Walters’ snapshot was well saved by Green,but it was a frustrated Potters side that trooped off at the break, while West Ham would have felt that they had got out of jail having been second best for much of that first 45 minutes.
There was drama just seconds after the restart. Etherington nipped past James Tomkins into the box, only to be tripped by Parker for an obvious penalty.
But Green proved to be equal to the task as Etherington hit his penalty to Green’s left only for the keeper to dive full length and make a brilliant save.
Stoke piled on the pressure as they looked to restore their lead and both Huth and Kenwyne Jones went close, before the home side made it 2-1 just after the hour.
A Stoke free kick was handled by Carlton Cole in the wall to give them another chance and this time Danny Higginbotham fired a low shot through a gap in the West Ham wall and Green could only palm it into the net.
West Ham looked to level almost straight away and nearly managed it on 67 minutes. Jonathan Spector’s cross was chested down by Victor Obinna to Hitzlsperger and when the German played it back to him, Obinna let fly with a shot that was expertly tipped over by Sorensen.
Substitute Robbie Keane had a shot well saved by Sorensen at his near post and then a shout for a penalty for handball, but though the Hammers pressed for an equaliser, Stoke also threatened on the break.
West Ham’s best chance came with four minutes left. Hitzlsperger swung in a corner and skipper Matty Upson rose highest to head the ball against the crossbar.
It was as near as they got and for the second time this season West Ham missed out on a first trip to Wembley in 30 years.
Now for the battle to stay in the Premier League and the little matter of a trip to Tottenham on Saturday!
West Ham: Green, Tomkins, Bridge, Upson, Da Costa, Parker, Noble (Hines 81), Hitzlsperger, Obinna (Keane 68), Piquionne (Spector 35), Cole. Unused subs: Boffin, Gabbidon, Boa Morte, Jacobsen.
Referee: Mike Jones.