Marko Arnautovic celebrated a hat-trick of sorts by slotting home a late Stoke equaliser having seen two earlier efforts ruled out for offside. The Austrian burst through in the fifth minute of added time to cancel out Aaron Cresswell’s free-kick opener for the hosts.
It was deserved as Stoke had been the better side from the moment Cresswell deceived Asmir Begovic from 25 yards in the seventh minute.
Their only problem was their finishing: substitute Mame Biram Diouf headed on to a post; Jonathan Walters squandered chances; Charlie Adam, scorer of a 65-yard wonder-goal at Chelsea last week, never came close to replicating that accuracy or power and Arnautovic was correctly caught out twice by the same linesman, including two minutes into stoppage time.
“I suppose we’re thankful for small mercies,” said Stoke manager Mark Hughes. “We thought we were not going to get what we deserved.”
This game was West Ham’s season in a microcosm, an energetic start instantly rewarded followed by steady and depressing decline. Inevitably the final whistle was greeted by boos from home fans who are counting down the days until manager Sam Allardyce leaves.
That will surely happen soon. Allardyce, his contract close to expiry, can legitimately claim that he has delivered everything asked of him by co-owners David Sullivan and David Gold in each of his four seasons – instant promotion, the avoidance of relegation, a top-half finish and a push further up the table allied to a more attractive style.
Yet sometimes it is simply time to go. “The judgement will be at the end of the season,” Allardyce said. “We should already be on 50 points.”
West Ham: (4-3-1-2) Adrian; Jenkinson, Reid, Collins, Cresswell; Song (Nolan, 58), Noble, Kouyaté; Downing; Sakho (Cole, 59), Valencia (Amalfitano, 68).
Stoke City: (4-2-3-1) Begovic; Cameron, Shawcross, Wollscheid, Wilson (Pieters, 49); N’Zonzi, Whelan (Ireland, 57); Arnautovic, Adam, Moses (Diouf, 44); Walters.
Referee: Roger East.
Man of the match: Arnautovic (Stoke)
Match rating: 5/10