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Monday, 14 March 2011

Higginbotham sends Potters potty (Stoke 2-1 West Ham)

Stoke and West Ham fans could see that this was going to be a scruffy game when those numbers were drawn from the bowl, and it was, filled with poor referring decisions and tough tackling.

The Stoke crowd was loud of voice, which seem to spur its team on to create three chances in the first two minutes. First, an ambitious backheel volley from Kenwyne Jones, which was easily caught by Green. Next, a Pennant cross was met by the head of former Hammer Matthew Etherington only to be denied by a superb stop from the away sides keeper, and finally, a wide Huth header.

It was all Stoke at the moment, West Ham's only chance from the first 10 minutes was a poor Cole header from a Tomkins throw (if only he had got lessons from Delap). But Delap certainly showed Tomkins how it was done on the 11 minute mark. His cannon-ball like throw being smashed into the net by the forehead of Stokes' top scorer... Robert Huth. There was appeals for obstruction from Hammers captain Upson, who was blocked by Walters in the process, which were ignored by the under-par referee. 1-0!

It was desperate times for West Ham United, who resorted to shooting from ridiculous distances and hoping for a Sorensen blunder. Noble and Tomkins both tried (and failed) from long range. It was not looking good. But suddenly (after 10 minutes of monotonous play) a lifeline, courtesy of the 'Arm of God' from Fredric Piquionne. A sublime Hitzlsperger ball was met by the Hammers striker, who controlled it illegally, lobbed it over the Stoke goalie and bundle into the back of the net (Piquionne was hurt in the process and  had to be replaced by Spector). Sorensen raged towards the referee with the anger of the Incredible Hulk, only for his appeal to be turned down. 1-1! 
Nothing much happened for the rest of the first half. Walters went off injured (then went back on again), Whelan, Parker and Pennant all fired wide and there was a scramble in the West Ham box, which was thankfully cleared by Da Costa.

The second half exploded into life almost immediately. Etherington ran down the pitch, twisting and turning past the Hammers defence before falling over in the penalty box. It was indeed quite a soft penalty claim, with Ethrington being felled by a push by Tomkins, but it was a penalty nonetheless. He stepped up to take it, only to be denied by a fantastic dive from Robert Green.

The match was looking at lot more evenly-sided at this point, Shawcross and Jones had chances for Stoke and Parker had a free kick from the edge of the Stoke box, but it came to nothing. West Ham were playing the long ball game, Thomas Hitzlsperger knocking hopeful balls down field to Cole, who failed to make opportunities. The game took another controversial turn, a Pennant free-kick struck off an arm in the wall, meaning another free kick was to be taken 18 yards out. Higginbotham stepped up to smash ball through a gap created by Stoke players, Green managed to get a hand to it, but failed to stop it going in off the post. 2-1!

Sorensen was doing his best to keep Stoke City in the lead. First, he saved well from a drive from Victor Obinna. Then, blocked Keane's shot from a tight angle. When the game went past the 80th minute mark, it was all West Ham. Tomkins could have easily been given a penalty after being wrestled to the ground by Walters and then Upson headed against the crossbar from a Hitzlsperger corner. From then on it was the same pattern; long ball by West Ham and clearance by Stoke.
The game ended in frustration for the visitors as they were prevented from attacking with needless fouls and good hold up play from Stoke. When the full time whistle sounded, the home fans roared in delight, they have made the FA Cup semi final and have kept their unbeaten home record for 2011 intact. They go through to play Bolton for a chance to be in the final.

Stoke City: Sorensen, Wilson, Shawcross, Huth, Higginbotham, Pennant (Whitehead 80), Delap, Whelan, Etherington (Collins 90), Jones (Fuller 89), Walters
West Ham: Green, Da Costa, Tomkins, Upson, Bridge, Hitzlsperger, Parker, Noble (Hines 80), Piquionne (Spector 34), Cole, Obinna (Keane 67)

BeeTeeSports Man of the Match: Jermaine Pennant (8/10)

Billy Taylor

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