Hammers out of bottom three after Stoke win

West Ham United 3 Stoke City 0

THE GREAT escape continues to gather yet more and more momentum down West Ham way, where successive, impressive victories over Liverpool and now Stoke City have given Avram Grant’s side every right to be optimistic about their survival hopes writes STEVE BLOWERS.

Kicking off in 19th-spot, the Hammers knew that a win would move them out of the bottom three and to within just three points of Tony Pulis’ side lying in 10th place, and they certainly did not disappoint.

Demba Ba’s January move to the Potters may have been smashed to smithereens on medical grounds but the in-form, Senegalese international showed the City manager that he is fighting fit, when he netted his fourth league goal in three games midway through the first half.

Manuel Da Costa then netted his second of the campaign on the half-hour before Thomas Hitzlsperger joined the Portuguese stopper on the two-goal mark in the dying minutes of a game that the East Enders simply dominated.

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Thanks to last Sunday’s vital victory over Liverpool, the feel-good factor had already returned to Upton Park in the run-up to this dress rehearsal for next week’s FA Cup quarter-final at the Britannia Stadium and, in his quest for aerial reinforcements, Grant made two changes as Da Costa and Carlton Cole came in for substitutes Lars Jacobsen and Gary O’Neil.

That tweak saw James Tomkins move across to right back, while Cole was employed as the focal point for Frederic Piquionne and Ba, who soon found himself body-checked in the City area without reward.

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Following their 1-1 draw with West Bromwich Albion on Monday evening, Stoke made just one change, as Glen Whelan replaced the benched Kenwyne Jones and, with 11 minutes on the clock, Jon Walters forced the first save of the afternoon with a near post flick that Robert Green pawed aside for a corner.

Shortly afterwards, Ryan Shawcross headed meekly to the Hammers keeper after home defence struggled to clear one of Rory Delap’s trademark long-throws.

But midway through the first-half West Ham broke the deadlock in the most bizarre circumstances, when Mark Noble tried to release Ba, who looked set to lose out to the retreating Marc Wilson and an on-rushing Asmir Begovic, however the potty Potters duo both contrived to miss the ball, leaving the Hammers striker to bundle into an empty net as the red-faced Stoke defender desperately tried to shove him over.

Having escaped what would have been a certain red card, it was not long until Wilson saw yellow for a wrestling Cole onto the damp Boleyn Ground turf.

And as the half-hour mark approached the consequently cautioned Shawcross paid dearly for his lunge on Scott Parker, when Hitzlsperger employed his laser-like left foot to float the resultant free-kick to the far post, where Da Costa outjumped Walters to send a powerful downward header over the line.

Ten minutes before the break, the unmarked Piquionne had a great chance to end the contest with a third Hammers goal but he sent his low, angled eight-yarder ripping into the side-netting, while Hitzlsperger also had another late screamer tipped over.

Even so, Grant’s men still left the field at half-time more than happy with their opening 45-minute shift and, just after the restart, Robert Huth hurriedly cleared from the busy Ba, while Tomkins nodded another deep Hitzlsperger cross onto the outside of the far post, which was the cue for ex-Hammer Matthew Etherington to replace Jermaine Pennant.

This was to be West Ham United’s day, though, and the message that Grant’s men are going to battle all the way to the end of the season, was spelt out load and clear by the indestructible Parker, who merely dusted himself down and got on with the fight after crashing heavily into an advertising hoarding at full pelt.

With the hour-mark approaching, Delap unleashed a low 20-yarder which Green beat away, while at the other end Cole threaded a low curler through a forest of legs only for Begovic to turn the shot around the base of his right-hand post.

Midway through the second half, an attempted back-header from Shawcross left Begovic stranded and, only the athleticism of the recovering Stoke keeper denied Cole, once more.

Ricardo Fuller came on for John Carew and within seconds of replacing Delap, Jones glanced Etherington’s cross wide, before Walters tested Green with a low 18-yarder as the visitors finally started to threaten.

On 82 minutes, though, Cole sent another angled effort just inches past the far upright and, just seconds later, Hitzlsperger finally confirmed West Ham’s first back-to-back wins since February 2010, when he rifled home from close-range after Parker steamrollered his way to the byline before cutting back to Piquionne, whose shot deflected into the path of the gleeful goal-grabbing German.

Hammers: Green, Tomkins, Bridge, Da Costa, Upson, Hitzlsperger, Parker (Gabbidon 90), Noble, Piquionne, Ba (O’Neil 82), Cole (Obinna 86) Unused Subs: Boffin, Spector, Hines, Jacobsen.

Stoke City: Begovic, Wilson, Pugh, Huth, Shawcross, Pennant (Etherington 51), Delap (Jones 68), Whelan, Whitehead, Walters, Carew (Fuller 64). Unused Subs: Sorensen, Collins, Diao, Wilkinson.

Referee: Andre Marriner.

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