With a flailing right hand, Robert Huth did his best to obliterate the memory of a game that should begin the process of turning this stadium into a fortress again. As players jostled in the Stoke box awaiting a West Ham free-kick, the German defender, moving behind Matthew Upson, caught him full on the cheek.
Referee Martin Atkinson was unsighted but the Football Association will surely investigate, and if the punch is deemed deliberate, it would seem a compelling argument for determining suspensions for violent conduct on a case-by-case basis, rather than simply imposing a mandatory three-game ban. "Looking at the video," said West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola, "when he wasn't sent off you can only assume that the referee didn't see it." Make no mistake: if it was purposeful, it was disgraceful. "I haven't seen it," said Stoke's manager, Tony Pulis, "but if he's done it we'll deal with it in-house. The back four were very, very good today, but if he's done that it's very disappointing."
Stoke only lost four games at home last season so the fact they had already lost two this season must have been of some con-cern even if those two games were against Chelsea and Manchester United. West Ham were one of the four successful away sides so this can be seen as a useful prop for Stoke's confidence.
For West Ham there are deeply worrying signs. Pulis suggested in his programme notes that they are too good to go down; not on this showing they're not. For the middle hour of the game they had the bulk of possession but threatened only fleetingly, and always looked vulnerable on the break.
When the disappointing Alessandro Diamanti, in frustration at misplacing another pass, slapped the heel of his hand to his head he seemed to speak for the entire club.
It was not a good first half for stereotypes. First James Beattie blasted Stoke into the lead from the penalty spot after Matthew Etherington, running on to Ricardo Fuller's back-heel, had been tripped by Julien Faubert. Such intricacy is supposed to be West Ham's forte but they replied with a goal from a corner. Jack Collison's diagonal run created space and Upson escaped Abdoulaye Faye to head Mark Noble's corner past Thomas Sorensen, who had drifted into a nowhere position at the edge of his six-yard box.
Stoke defended far better after half-time, and apart from one last-ditch Ryan Shawcross challenge to deny Carlton Cole, they were relatively comfortable. Their winner came on the break, Fuller turning Upson too easily, running on and hitting an angled shot. Robert Green saved but Faubert was weak, Beattie stabbing in the rebound.
The full-back should then have been set off late on for a horrible challenge on Liam Lawrence. For West Ham, that is small mercy.
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Man of the match: Shawcross
Match rating: 6/10Reuse content