West Ham United conjured up a rare and unlikely victory, coming from behind with moments to spare before romping home in style in extra-time to move into the last eight of the Carling Cup. Times have been hard for the club this season, rooted to the bottom of the Premier League and hamstrung by suffocating debts of more than £50m, but last night they eventually looked a team transformed.
They were very poor in losing 2-1 to Newcastle on Saturday, and were poor again to be 1-0 down to Stoke City at half-time, after an early goal from Kenwyne Jones. But with the redoubtable Scott Parker at the forefront, West Ham improved immeasurably after the interval to force extra time, thanks to Parker's close range finish with six minutes to go, and goals from Manuel da Costa, who is currently on bail on suspicion of sexual assault and common assault at a nightclub in Ilford, Essex, after he was arrested last week, and Victor Obinna made the tie safe.
They were aided by the decision by Stoke manager Tony Pulis to replace Jones and Jermaine Pennant early in the second half, players he said afterwards had been "under the weather". But that is not to take away from the determined way West Ham pulled themselves out of trouble.
Co-owner David Sullivan wrote in the match programme that "we are all depressed" by last weekend's defeat to Newcastle and said the club face "a very severe test of character in the coming months, make no mistake." He will have been cheered by what he saw last night.
The re-jigged team, which contained eight changes from Saturday's team, were staring disaster in the face, and it came as no surprise when they were booed off at half-time. They had gone behind when their defence left Jones unmarked to head home from a corner after six minutes, had barely won a header and did not force Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic to make a save.
Parker was the inspiration, driving the team forward, at times almost singlehandedly. It was fitting that he should score the equaliser, finishing from close range after a powerful run into the penalty area.
There were also exceptional contributions from two substitutes, the lively Obinna and the energetic Mark Noble, who created the final two goals for West Ham.
Their winner came from their 24-year-old Portuguese defender da Costa. Six minutes into the extra half hour he finished after a wonderfully inventive run by Noble who beat two Stoke defenders – "like Maradona" according to manager Avram Grant – before pulling the ball back to the penalty spot where Da Costa fired home.
The victory was rounded off with a fine goal from Obinna. With two minutes of extra time remaining the Nigerian international pounced on Noble's brilliant through ball to finish emphatically with his left.
The challenge now is for West Ham to take this rejuvenated form into this Saturday's visit to free-scoring Arsenal. Grant said, however, he is looking further ahead. "We wanted to show that Saturday's defeat to Newcastle was exceptional for us," Grant said. "We played well, dominated the game, and scored three goals. We change the tactics a bit at half-time, and I was delighted at the response.
"We have a plan and a project for many years, and I think we're doing the right things. We just need to be more stable. We need to show desire and passion to win every game."
West Ham United (4-4-1-1): Stech; Faubert, Da Costa, Tomkins, Ben Haim; Barrera, Kovac, Parker, Boa Morte; McCarthy; Cole. Substitutes not used Green (gk), Reid, Noble, Behrami, Ilunga, Nouble, Obinna.
Stoke City (4-4-1-1): Begovic; Wilkinson, Huth, Shawcross, Higginbotham; Pennant, Whitehead, Whelan, Walters; Tuncay; Jones. Substitutes not used Nash (gk), Gudjohnsen, Soares, Pugh, Tonge, Delap, Faye.
Referee H Webb (South Yorkshire).Reuse content