Diego Tristan's first goal for West Ham, which gave manager Gianfranco Zola only his second home victory since he began his reign against Newcastle in September, should have been the subject of all the post-match conversations. But even Hammers' fans went away laughing not at a fortunate three points but at the most bizarre sending-off of the season.
Stoke striker Ricardo Fuller was preparing to kick off after Carlton Cole's 51st-minute equaliser when he suddenly turned and started berating full-back Andy Griffin, whom he blamed for the goal. Despite the efforts of Glenn Whelan to keep the pair apart, Fuller managed to land a lefthanded slap on Griffin, more Audley Harrison than Lennox Lewis, but enough to see him sent off.
Referee Michael Jones, 38, in charge of only his fifth Premier League game, did not appear to see the incident but still showed Fuller a red card after words with Griffin, presumably asking him if his team-mate had landed a blow. Stoke manager Tony Pulis said: "I can't condone what Ricky's done but I've seen it before between team-mates. He's a volatile player and a volatile person but he was so disappointed with himself that when we came off at the end, he was already on the bus. I'll deal with it on Monday."
Pulis, who described Fuller and Griffin as good friends, seemed more concerned about some of the other incidents missed by the referee, including two early tackles from Luis Boa Morte, either of which could have drawn a yellow card. Pulis said: "The same thing happened against Manchester United. The referee saw all our offences but none of United's. I'm not asking for any favours. I just want us to be treated like every other team and it's important for us that that happens in the second half of the season."
The win lifted West Ham to the giddy heights of 10th in the table, although only five points clear of the relegation zone, leaving their fans wondering, like many others, whether they are still in a fight to avoid the drop or should start dreaming about a place in Europe. Certainly Zola can do with the breathing space as the transfer window seems likely to see more household names departing than coming in, given the club's financial plight.
Zola, who was without the suspended Craig Bellamy, his main goal threat, described victory as "a big, big turning point for us because the players' confidence here has been low." But even he could not resist giggling at the Fuller sending-off, adding: "I have never seen anything like that before, except on television. I felt sorry for my colleague [Pulis] because you never want to see things like that." Stoke, who have not won away all season, started to believe when Abdoulaye Faye stepped away from his marker and headed the easiest of goals from Danny Pugh's corner.
Faye then settled back into the day job of marshalling his defence against a West Ham onslaught, which produced half a dozen chances.
After going down to 10 men, however, Stoke looked safer than they had all afternoon, except when Danny Higginbotham hacked one off the line after Boa Morte had beaten Thomas Sorensen. Then three minutes from time, a shot from Cole brushed off Spanish substitute Tristan, 32, who joined West Ham on a free in October after his contract with Livorno expired. Pulis claimed he was offside but replays suggested otherwise.
Goals: Faye (4) 0-1; Cole (51) 1-1; Tristan (88) 2-1. West Ham (4-1-3-2): Green; Faubert, Collins, Upson, Ilunga; Parker (Mullins, 77); Behrami, Boa Morte, Collison (Tristan, 77); Cole, Di Michele (Spector, 89). Substitutes not used: Lastuvka (gk), Bowyer, Sears, NGala. Stoke (4-4-2): Sorensen; Griffin (Davies, 58), Shawcross, Ab Faye, Higginbotham; Delap, Olofinjana, Whelan, Pugh (Pericard, 52); Cresswell, Fuller. Substitutes not used: Simonsen (gk), Lawrence, Soares, Tonge, Sonko. Referee: M Jones (Mansfield). Booked: West Ham Cole, Boa Morte, Di Michele; Stoke Higginbotham, Olofinjana, Ab Faye. Sent off: Fuller (54). Man of the match: Faye. Attendance: 34,477.