Not many promoted sides would be frustrated to be seventh this close to Christmas. But there may be a tinge of regret at the Boleyn Ground on Tuesday morning. West Ham United should be fifth.
If West Ham had beaten Stoke City on Monday night they would have overtaken Everton and Arsenal. They would only have been two points behind West Bromwich Albion. But that would have required a 90-minute performance. West Ham only played for the second half.
“We were disappointed not to win it based on that second half,” Sam Allardyce said afterwards. “But we have got another point. It has been a really good start to the season so we can’t be too disappointed. I can’t be over critical of the players.”
There has been some good and purposeful attacking football played in claret and blue this season but it took until the interval to see it last night. For the first half, West Ham looked just like a side lacking Yossi Benayoun and Matt Jarvis, two of their sharpest creative players. It requires imagination and precision to pick through the imposing rows of Stoke, and West Ham had neither. “Stoke were so good”, explained Allardyce.
The West Ham manager was particularly impressed by Stoke’s opening goal. Allardyce has a deserved reputation as a master of minutiae, a genuinely original organiser of players and teams. But his side were out-manoeuvred by Stoke’s clever set-piece trick.
Glenn Whelan had a corner from the right wing. Jon Walters was stood at the far post. As Whelan started his run-up, Walters darted away from goal, across the box and towards the near side. Whelan pulled the ball back into the space where Walters arrived and thumped the ball in.
“I’m not supposed to say this but we obstructed a player,” said Pulis. “Unsaveable,” marvelled Allardyce.
Only after the interval did West Ham start to play with pace, width or success. After one minute they should have scored, when a Mohamed Diame-driven move down the left ended with Kevin Nolan heading straight at Asmir Begovic. One minute later, they did equalise: a Diame-driven move down the right ended better, with Joey O’Brien turning in Gary O’Neil’s cross.
From that point West Ham were far superior. “We took the game to Stoke in the second half and dominated, penned them back but we could not find the winning touch in front of goal,” said Allardyce.
Modibo Maiga and O’Neil went close as West Ham surged forward, scenting fifth. Whelan blocked twice on the line. Diame shot wide. Maiga chipped a cross over Carroll’s head and Winston Reid headed at Begovic in added time.
Carroll worked hard but did not score and did not look like doing so. “Andy is not to get too frustrated,” said Allardyce. “Sooner or later if we work on his run and the service he will score. Scoring chances is the most difficult thing in this league. At the moment we have only got Kevin Nolan who can do it for us regularly.”
Booked: West Ham Noble. Stoke none.
Man of the match Nolan.
Match rating 4/10.
Possession: West Ham 55% Stoke 45%.
Attempts on target: West Ham 11 Stoke 6.
Referee C Foy (Merseyside).