West Ham fall short in quest for fifth

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The Independent Online

West Ham United will be frustrated this morning to wake up in seventh place in the Premier League. That is a strange position for a promoted side to be in this close to Christmas but Sam Allardyce's team should be ahead of Everton and Arsenal today.

Had West Ham beaten Stoke City they would have been, but a performance which did not begin until the second half meant they are not. Jon Walters put Stoke ahead in the first half and although West Ham improved enough to draw, they could not win it.

Allardyce has a deserved reputation as a master of minutiae, a genuinely original organiser of players and teams. He will have been furious, then, to be out-manoeuvred by an opponent's clever set-piece trick.

After 13 minutes, Glenn Whelan had a corner from the right wing. Jon Walters, below, was stood at the far post. As Whelan started his run-up, Walters darted away from goal, across the box and towards the near side. Whelan pulled the ball back into the space where Walters arrived and he thumped it in.

West Ham's lack of Yossi Benayoun and Matthew Jarvis now looked rather problematic. Against a team prepared to do everything to frustrate and delay them, the hosts had to work desperately hard for chances. Mohamed Diamé and Kevin Nolan were denied by Asmir Begovic but this was very tough work.

For all of West Ham's dead-end possession, Stoke came nearest to scoring again before the interval. Steven N'Zonzi, their most gifted player, thundered the ball against the underside of Jussi Jaaskelainen's crossbar. West Ham needed a rethink.

There was certainly more width, pace and success to West Ham in the second half. After one minute they should have scored, and after two minutes they did. Diamé stormed into the box, shot, and hit the rebound wide to Gary O'Neil. This cross was low and Joey O'Brien turned it into the net.

All of a sudden West Ham could smell fifth place. The hosts were so keen to win the game that they nearly left themselves exposed at the back at times. Diamé shot wide when a free-kick fell to him and in added time Winston Reid headed at Begovic. But the chance, had slipped away.