Gianfranco Zola is on the brink of resigning after West Ham suffered their sixth successive defeat yesterday, three of them at home to moderate opposition. With Hull winning, the Hammers are clear of the relegation zone on goal difference alone.
Zola admitted he would "consider his future overnight" and had to decide if he was the man to keep West Ham up. "If I am not, I will resign," he said. Asked if he felt, "in his heart of hearts", that he would be in charge at Everton next weekend he paused, then said, "I think so. We'll see what happens – let me think overnight. I need to see what the problem is, if the problem is me."
Zola said he felt the players were still behind him, praising their effort yesterday, and that the owners, David Gold and David Sullivan, had been supportive after the match. He added that he would be speaking to them "a lot" today. Zola is on a contract worth close to £2m per year, with another three years to run. Sacking him would be a difficult decision given the club's already ruinous debt burden, but relegation would be more expensive.
Zola's gloomy contemplations concluded a miserable afternoon for the Hammers. Before the match, the stadium announcer Jeremy Nicolas said: "Welcome to the home of the happy Hammers. Are you happy? No, me neither." Ninety minutes of football later the mood was grimmer still after a brilliant solo goal from Ricardo Fuller. Left on the bench after suffering from a stomach bug, Fuller scored within two minutes of his introduction and waltzed around three men to do so. It marked a memorable return to a ground he left in disgrace last season, dismissed for striking his then captain, Andy Griffin.
Quite a tale, but just a sub-plot compared to the crisis which is engulfing West Ham. Relegation, with debts of more than £100m, would be catastrophic. Sullivan's withering midweek attack on the performance against Wolverhampton was repeated in the programme.
Sullivan had demanded changes, and Zola assented with five. Carrying the can were Benni McCarthy, Radoslav Kovac (both of whom were substituted on Tuesday), Alessandro Diamanti and Fabio Daprela. They were on the bench while James Tomkins, whose backpass started the rout, was absent entirely – he is said to have an ankle injury. Among those recalled were Manuel da Costa, making his first start since November, and Kieron Dyer, his fourth of the season.
The Hammers began with a snap in the tackle but Stoke always looked more cohesive and threatening, they also played most of what football there was. Chances, though, were rare with Liam Lawrence lashing the best over, perhaps through guilt as he had charged down a clearance with his hands first.
Rob Green dealt well with Rory Delap's long throws, though the latter's missile-hurling capacity may have been affected by the sudden appearance of advertising boards close to the touchlines. For the Hammers, Carlton Cole was the main danger. Dropping off he released Dyer wide but Mido headed the cross over; running on to a pass from the energetic Scott Parker he was foiled when Thomas Sorensen dived at his feet; then, soon after the half-hour, he unleashed a shot which the Dane failed to hold and Mido was unable to control the rebound.
Dyer, to jeers, failed to reappear after the break. The next half-hour was largely spent in West Ham's half. Nevertheless, the breakthrough was unexpected. Fuller brought down a hoisted clearance with his back to goal and Julien Faubert marking him. He turned, wriggled between Faubert and Parker, made a fool of Matthew Upson, and sent Green the wrong way.
The Hammers belatedly pushed forward but Stoke are a well-organised, committed, side and West Ham lacked the necessary invention. Even with only one goal in it, the crowd was streaming out long before the end. But if it was a terrible result, half-time brought some much needed perspective when tribute was paid to Rifleman Martin Kinggett. The 19-year-old West Ham fan from Dagenham was killed in Afghanistan last month.
Referee: Andre Marriner
Man of the match: Fuller
Match rating: 6/10