Alan Pardew's brief reign as West Ham manager has been characterised by several drawn matches, which are mostly to blame for their failure to break into the top six of the First Division. But, oh, how the Hammers' faithful would have loved just a single point on this occasion to prevent the embarrassment of defeat.
The Londoners are still eyeing a return to the Premiership, which they dropped out of last season. But they were undone here at Upton Park last night by someone who is going to get there much sooner than next summer.
Frazer Richardson is on loan at Stoke from Leeds and is due to return to the top flight very soon. The midfielder, 21, feels he has a chance to get into Leeds' first team and his well-taken first-half goal will have done his chances no harm. He will leave the Potteries on good terms, having helped haul them out of the bottom three.
This was the Hammers' second defeat in their last three home games and their disjointed, dysfunctional performance merited the result which leaves them apparently marooned in ninth place. Incredibly, though, they are only one point off the play-off places.
Ironically, with West Ham so lacklustre, Richardson's strike came after their best effort on goal. The Hammers were without Jermain Defoe, serving the last of his five-match ban, and David Connolly, usually his strike partner, came close to breaking the deadlock.
The Irishman's 25-yard free-kick hit Ed de Goey's post and West Ham were slow to regroup. Stoke, through Ade Akinbiyi, went on the counter- attack and after his shot was deflected across goal, Richardson was there to side-foot home. On Monday night the West Ham chairman, Terence Brown, gave the clearest hint yet that the club were getting ready to sell Defoe. His contract runs to 2005, and he has not seemed willing to sign an extension. If the club want to cash in on his worth, they will have to sell him in January or next summer.
Stoke's manager, Tony Pulis, is rather keener on retaining Richardson, as he said: "We'd love to keep Frazer and a decision will be made in the next 24 hours." It was only Stoke's second clean sheet in 19 matches, and their win halted a run of eight consecutive away League defeats. The only time the Hammers threatened was when Don Hutchison tried his howitzer shooting, but City remained unbreached.
Pardew admitted his team underperformed, saying: "The pressure's on and this team's on a knife-edge. They've got two or three games, or otherwise I've got to make changes."
West Ham United (3-4-1-2): James; Repka (Horlock, h-t), Dailly, Pearce; Quinn, Carrick, Mullins, Stockdale; Connolly; Deane (Hutchison, 54), Harewood. Substitutes not used: Bywater (gk), Ferdinand, Garcia.
Stoke City (4-4-2): De Goey; Hall, Thomas, Taggart, Halls; Clarke, Eustace, Russell, Richardson; Noel-Williams (Johnson, 70), Akinbiyi (Asaba, 60). Substitutes not used: Cutler (gk), Neal, Commons.
Referee: B Curson (Leicester).Reuse content