Grant's belief in new blood pumps fresh life into West Ham
West Ham 3 Stoke City 0
Monday 07 March 2011
One team kept a clean sheet and scored with a towering header from a set play, the other was struggling from the moment its defence conceded a comedy goal. If the good news for West Ham United is that they have taken on some of Stoke City's battling qualities, the bad news for the team from the Potteries on Saturday was that, at times, they resembled the east Londoners at their most unconvincing.
The league table suggests that Stoke are also in danger of sliding into the relegation danger area that has been West Ham's habitat for most of the season unless they rediscover their identity away, where they have now lost six successive league games.
This was West Ham's first clean sheet since New Year's Day, and it appears it will be the reinforcements in midfield and forward strength that keep them up.
Avram Grant, their manager, finally has competition for forward places, with Demba Ba, who arrived from Hoffenheim in January after failing a medical at Stoke, scoring his fourth goal in four league games. And Thomas Hitzlsperger, the summer signing whose debut was delayed until last month by injury, has given them a valuable left-footed midfield presence.
It was his free-kick that was headed in by Manuel da Costa to double the lead and his thumping finish that sealed the victory in the second half.
"I don't remember a player that has such a big impact in their first games in the Premier League as Demba Ba," Grant said. "Demba and Hitzlsperger I have followed for a long time and I believe in them."
Stoke can take revenge on Sunday, when the teams meet in the FA Cup sixth round, and Tony Pulis, their manager, is not panicking yet. "We haven't done too bad away from home this season; that's the first time we've conceded three goals. I think we were the only Premier League club not to do that. So we're disappointed today, we dust ourselves down and get on with it."
Scorers: West Ham Ba 21, Da Costa 29, Hitzlsperger 83.
Subs: West Ham O'Neil (Ba, 81), Obinna (Cole, 86), Gabbidon (Parker, 90). Stoke Etherington 5 (Pennant, 51), Fuller 5 (Carew, 65), Jones 4 (Delap, 68).
Booked: Stoke Shawcross, Wilson, Pugh.
Man of the match Noble. Match rating 7/10.
Possession West Ham 60% Stoke 40%.
Attempts on target West Ham 10 Stoke 5.
Ref A Marriner (West Midlands). Att 33,066.
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