Last season nothing went right for Mark Hughes but since he joined Stoke City in May the Welshman can do little wrong. Almost his first act as manager at the Britannia Stadium was to offer the out-of-contract Jermaine Pennant a new 12-month deal and yesterday the former Arsenal and Liverpool winger paid him back with a late goal that gave Stoke only their third win in 30 Premier League away games.
Pennant, whose escapades have included a drink-driving conviction and forgetting he owned a Porsche that he had left at a railway station for five months while at Real Zaragoza, came on as a late substitute to curl home a free kick, his first goal since May 2011 and the first West Ham had conceded this season.
"I've always admired his talents," Hughes said. "He has had problems – he will tell you that himself. But I think he is in a different place in his life now and he hasn't disappointed me." Hughes has now won more points in three games with Stoke – six, after their home victory against Crystal Palace eight days ago – than the four he managed in his 12 matches in charge of QPR last season. But also, more remarkably, he has transformed the former long-ball outfit into a footballing side.
While Stoke's key performers in this well-deserved victory were footballers such as Charlie Adam rather than long-throw merchants of the Rory Delap variety, West Ham relied exclusively on set plays and had few other ideas. The prospect of going the top of the table, even at this meaninglessly early stage of the new season, seemed to be too much for Sam Allardyce's men, who froze and never looked likely to take the three points they would have needed.
Even one would have been more than they merited after failing to register a shot on target. Stoke passed the ball more in accordance with the values associated with the Academy of Football and it took a double save from Jussi Jaaskelainen after 22 minutes from Marc Wilson's thunderous volley and Jonathan Walters' follow-up to keep them out.
When Steven N'Zonzi wasted a chance for Stoke after pilfering possession from Mark Noble, you wondered whether West Ham might make them pay, but Modibo Maïga headed unconvincingly wide and the injured Andy Carroll was only one of 34,946 inside the Boleyn Ground imagining what he might have done with such a chance.
Adam was taken off after 76 minutes, presumably tired out after running the game, but when his replacement Glenn Whelan was brought down by Mohamed Diamé 20 yards out, fellow substitute Pennant won the points. "It was an off-day for us," Sam Allardyce said. "It shows we're still not established in the Premier League." .
West Ham (4-3-3): Jaaskelainen; Demel, Collins, Reid, O'Brien; Noble (Collison, 84), Nolan, Diamé; Jarvis, Maïga, Downing (Morrison, 64).
Stoke (4-2-3-1): Begovic; Cameron, Shawcross, Huth, Pieters; N'Zonzi, Wilson; Walters, Adam (Whelan, 76), Etherington (Pennant, 76); Jones.
Referee: Jonathan Moss
Man of the match: Charlie Adam (Stoke)