Zamora claws Hammers back into contention for play-offs

Stoke City 0 - West Ham United 1
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The Independent Online

On their travels at least, West Ham United are getting it right.

On their travels at least, West Ham United are getting it right.

Bobby Zamora stepped off the substitutes' bench to hit a late winner and put them back on the shoulder of sixth-placed Reading.

The striker needed barely 60 seconds to come up with the crucial goal after his 75th minute arrival as part of a bold double switch by the under-pressure Alan Pardew. Having just lashed a shot past the angle, Zamora had the simple task of tapping in Marlon Harewood's low cross when it reached him at the far post.

It secured the Hammers' third straight away victory and condemned fading Stoke to a fifth defeat in seven matches.

Reaching the play-offs is no longer a target lying in West Ham hands alone. They need other results to go in their favour as well.

They are not quite supping in the last chance saloon but the call for final orders will soon be heard and they are in danger of missing out.

Once the head had been skimmed off - namely the first 90 seconds - their first-half performance fell a bit flat in a microcosm of their trying season.

It was during that promising taster that Shaun Newton made good ground down the right, only for Harewood to blaze the winger's centre wildly over.

The same striker later had a 25-yarder well tipped round the post by Steve Simonsen, who had only to stand back and let Newton and Hayden Mullins make a complete mess of the visitors' other half chances.

Stoke, their own play-off hopes already over despite ending a run of three defeats at the weekend, were more threatening.

Kenwyne Jones brought a low early save from James Walker, who was then relieved when he fumbled Chris Greenacre's cross under pressure and Elliott Ward easily cleared Clive Clark's half-hit shot.

The second half was uncomfortable for West Ham, Jones and Gifton Noel-Williams missing from close range and Darel Russell stabbing over from the edge of the area.

There was a further flutter when Noel-Williams went sprawling under an Anton Ferdinand penalty-area challenge which, just as well for the Hammers, was made on the blind side of referee Graham Laws.

Newton and Matthew Etherington sporadically hinted at creating the breakthrough West Ham sorely needed, although survival was higher on their agenda as Clint Hill went close to turning in Chris Greenacre's cross-shot at the near post.

Lewis Neal had a goal disallowed for Stoke deep into injury time.

Stoke City (4-4-2): Simonsen; Buxton (Henry, 74), Duberry, Taggart, Hill; Greenacre (Neal, 83), Brammer, Russell, Clarke; Jones (Ricketts, 83), Noel-Williams. Substitutes not used: De Goey (gk), Clark.

West Ham United (4-4-2): Walker; Repka (Zamora, 76), Ferdinand, Ward, Powell; Newton, Reo-Coker, Mullins (Fletcher, 76), Etherington; Harewood (Chadwick, 90), Sheringham. Substitutes not used: Bywater (gk), Brevett.

Referee: G Laws (Tyne & Weir).

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