A match that began with Andy Carroll’s first goal in 11 months ended up with another of the Premier League’s lesser spotted talents, Stephen Ireland, stealing the show as Stoke City took a big step towards securing top-flight safety for another season.
Ireland had a hand in all three goals as he produced a man-of-the-match performance to help Stoke come from behind to claim a victory that lifted them above West Ham United into 10th place on 34 points. The 27-year-old had lost his way badly at Aston Villa but is flourishing anew under Hughes, his former manager at Manchester City. He signed him on a season-long loan last summer which became a permanent move in January.
“I know every time I bring Stephen into the team he will give us quality and awareness of when to give the right pass,” said Hughes, who hopes the midfielder stays on next season. “Today showed what he can bring to us and we are trying to get it done.”
By the finish the home fans were chanting “It’s just like watching Brazil” and if the Britannia microclimate – cold and blustery even on an afternoon of spring sunshine – ensured South America felt very far away, the style of Stoke’s second and third goals illustrated their evolution under Hughes.
For the second goal, the ball flowed between Glenn Whelan, Ireland and Peter Odemwingie to Arnautovic who broke into the box via a fortuitous ricochet off Winston Reid before poking the ball low past Adrian. Odemwingie then wrapped up the win with a fine breakaway goal, a first-time rising shot inside the near post, after Ireland had carried the ball 60 yards.
“We are trying to give ourselves more options and have different threats going forward,” said Hughes, whose team have lost only twice this season at the Britannia. For West Ham, by contrast, the focus remains the big man and this looked like it might be Carroll’s afternoon when he opened the scoring with his first goal since his permanent £15m transfer last summer. He outjumped Peter Crouch to reach Mark Noble’s free-kick and nod the ball over the stranded Asmir Begovic in the fifth minute.
Stoke equalised with a goal credited to Peter Odemingie, even if Crouch did all the hard work. From Ireland’s corner, Crouch rose above James Tomkins and sent a header down and up on to the crossbar before stretching out a lanky leg and meeting the rebound with a volley which struck Odemwingie’s shoulder before crossing the line.
Ireland might have scored himself in the first period, when Adrian twice saved, although West Ham had their own moments to rue. Early in the second half, Carroll got through but was foiled by Begovic, while Nolan had a goal disallowed after Carroll’s presence had unsettled Begovic.
Sam Allardyce, the West Ham manager, was unhappy with “a blatant handball” by Marc Muniesa missed by referee Craig Pawson at 2-1, but he recognised that making four changes, including recalling Reid, had backfired. “It doesn’t look like I should have made them,” he said. “We were looking to try and get a second goal [but] then we fell asleep. I don’t know where our defending went.”
Stoke (4-2-3-1): Begovic; Cameron, Shawcross, Wilson, Pieters (Muniesa, 14); Nzonzi, Whelan; Odemwingie, Arnautovic, Arnautovic; Crouch.
West Ham (4-5-1): Adrian; Demel, Reid, Tomkins, McCartney; Diame, Noble, Nolan, Nocerino (C Cole, 76), Downing (J Cole, 62); Carroll (Armero, 83).
Referee: Craig Pawson
Man of the match: Stephen Ireland (Stoke)
Match rating: 7/10