Premier League
West Ham United 1 Stoke City 1

Saturday, 5th November 2016
by Gordon Thrower

Did you really expect anything else from Stoke?

Possibly the best thing to happen at this match was the appearance in press room pre-match of Milly who used to be in charge of feeding and watering the assorted media hoards at the Boleyn. Having retired after the Man Utd game at the end of last season Milly turned up as a guest and. it has to be said, is looking bloody well on retirement.

Team news was that Ayew was given a start whilst Ginge came in for the suspended Reid. Team: Adrian, Kouyate, Collins, Ogbonna, Antonio, Cresswell, Noble, Obiang, Lanzini, Payet, Ayew.

Pre-match there was the traditional act of remembrance where the sacrifices of so many were commemorated by the laying of wreaths and the playing of the last post. The bugle player missed a few notes which, ironically, actually added to the gravitas of the event, the resulting sound acquiring the air of a singer whose voice was cracking up with the emotion of it all. Very moving.

......unlike anything that happened over the next 45 minutes. It was a dreadful half. You know what you are getting with Stoke. You get the impression that when they first got the letter to become founder members of the Football League, their eyes lit up more at the prospect of being able to stop other sides winning the thing rather than with any thoughts of winning the thing itself (they finished bottom of the league in that initial season).

They came to stifle and they did it very well, crowding the midfield and putting three men on Payet and, often, Lanzini, lest there be any outbreak of creativity. They were ably assisted in their attempts to suck the oxygen out of the game by referee Marriner who showed every indication that he had read the comments on advantage contained within Law 5, but not very closely. Thus it was that free-kicks were awarded to halt attacks in promising positions and were ignored when the victim was cornered with nowhere to go.

Stoke's Grant was the busier of the two 'keepers, not as a result of any attacking threat from ourselves but mainly through the extraordinary number of back passes aimed his way by his team-mates. It reminded me of watching Liverpool during their successful heyday (no. of titles since the back-pass law changed: zero), the difference being that when they weren't diving Liverpool used to try and play a bit.

The one bit of excitement in the opening period was the provided by Ogbonna's header which brought a fine one-handed reaction save out of Grant. But that was by far and away the exception in a half that will live long in the memory only of those people who end up on psychiatric wards screaming before their medication is upped. The rest of us will have no problem in blocking it out of our minds. Thankfully.

There was a bit of an odd end to the half. When they hadn't passing the ball back to Grant, Stoke's outfield players had been continually going down as if some unspecified virus had been running through the team. A couple of injuries did appear to be genuine, requiring as they did the attendance of the physio teams on a couple of relatively lengthy occasions. So when the fourth official's board went up and showed just the token one minute they usually stick up as an afterthought it was a bit of a surprise, suggesting that Marriner was as bored as the rest of us were. However, the weirdness didn't stop there.

Marriner proceeded to allow play to continue for the three or four minutes that would have been more appropriate under the circumstances, suggesting that either whatever it had been that Marriner had actually told the fourth official hadr been lost in translation or that the complexities of operating an electronic board were beyond the limited intellect of a highly-paid PGMOL official. Whatever the reason, the added time allowed Payet to put a free-kick over the suspiciously close wall but sadly also just over the bar for the last meaningful action of the half.

You'll have gathered that the half time highlights didn't take up too much of the interval. The preceding 45 plus whatever minutes had simply flown by much as that bloke who used to run the marathon in a lead-booted diver's suit could have been said to have "flown by". Nobody wanted to say "at least the second half can't be that bad" just in case it turned out to be worse.

Thankfully it wasn't, though that wasn't much of an achievement. The opening exchanges were as dreadful as those of the first period had been. Obiang caught a shot just too sweetly giving Grant an easy save to pouch but that was about it for the first 15 minutes or so. Meanwhile Obiang;s fine cross-field pass to Cresswell looked promising until the linesman decided to raise a flag, dispensing with the usual requirement for a player to have been in an offside position before awarding the free-kick.

So pretty much on the hour we rang the changes. Fernandes replaced Lanzini whilst Fletcher came on for Ayew. It would be accurate to say that we looked livelier after the changes though again that wouldn't be saying much but it wasn't long before we were ahead.

The second of a pair of corners was cleared out to the edge of the box where Noble brought it down to lay off to Payet whose cross found Antonio who headed home via the back of Whelan. The rather pathetic announcement from the Premier League's "Dubious Goals Panel" only served to underline the pointless nature of that organisation. Antonio's goal to anybody with half a working brain cell, which clearly excludes the panel then.

Whelan lasted about five more minutes before being hooked or Bojan whilst Crouch replaced Bony.Marriner nailed his colours firmly to the visitors' mast with Fernandes picking up a yellow for being in the same postcode as yet another Stoke player threw himself to the ground whilst all the while Allen's habit of leaving his foot in on Cresswell and Antonio on pretty much every conceivable occasion went unpunished by anything more than a free-kick.

We have this season shown a remarkable propensity for shooting ourselves in the foot and so it proved again. Adrian had already given cause for concern coming a long way to punch one he was always going to struggle to get to, Stoke's effort coming to naught as an unnecessary foul on the 'keeper (force of habit I expect) brought that particular attack to a close. Unfortunately Adrian failed to heed his own warning with disastrous consequences.

A long ball from the back ended up on the left hand side of the box where there seemed to be an adequate number of defenders on duty to deal with things. Unfortunately, our custodian begged to differ and went steaming out to the edge of the box, taking out Walters just after the latter had got is cross in. Marriner made his first correct advantage decision of the day and Bojan was on hand to hook the ball in to the 'keeperless net.

It could have been worse at the death - Adrian saved an Adam free-kick but looked far from convincing in turning the low shot around the post. Justice prevailed though and a poor game of football came to an end after the officials had got their backsides into gear and worked out that there were four minutes of stoppage to add to the 90.

Seasoned observers have learned not to expect too much out of a game against Stoke. It's up to us to carry the game to such teams and, at the moment we are showing a distinct lack of ability to do that. Operating without a proper striker doesn't help of course but we really have to stop giving away stupid goals like that. It's hard enough to win points as it is.

Still if Carroll can stop being held up at gunpoint for a week or two we might have something approaching a full squad available for the visit to Spurs. Which could be interesting...

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Player Ratings

Adrian San Miguel Del Castillo
Didn't have an awful lot to do, but managed to not do it. Whatever the reason - a lack of trust in Ginge perhaps? - we could do without those rushes of blood to the head.

Michail Antonio
Scored (that panel can do one). Got fouled a lot more times than he was given free-kicks for. A bit wasteful in possession occasionally.

Aaron Cresswell
Might have had more impact on the game had his team mates thought to give him the ball a bit quicker.

James Collins
Usual Ginge performance. Solid enough under the circumstances.

Angelo Ogbonna
Decent run out defensively and unfortunate not to open the scoring on the first half.

Pedro Obiang
Showing consistency in the middle. Had one of our few shots on goal. MOTM in the absence of any real stand out performances.

Cheikhou Kouyate
Marshalled what little threat the visitors posed quite well but, given the way they lined up, I'd have liked to have seen him bringing the ball out of defence a bit more.

Mark Noble
The overcrowding of the midfield and a lack of movement in front of him saw him turning round and going backwards - it got to happen so often that he started doing in even when there was a forward pass on.

Dimitri Payet
One free-kick, one assist. Got nothing out of the ref. Not a vintage performance.

Manuel Lazini
I thought he was slightly more influential than Payet though his creative instincts were often suffocated by the visitors. Which was what they were after I suppose.

Andre Ayew
Had virtually no support throughout the game so it was no surprise when he was the first to leave.


Edimilson Fernandes
Quite how he got a booking lord alone knows.

Ashley Fletcher
Looked more mobile than Ayew who he replaced.

Sofiane Feghouli
Can't really remember a contribution.

Darren Dandolph

Havard Nordtveit

Jonathan Calleri

Simone Zaza

Match Facts

West Ham United: Adrian San Miguel Del Castillo, Michail Antonio, Aaron Cresswell, James Collins, Angelo Ogbonna, Pedro Obiang, Cheikhou Kouyate, Mark Noble, Dimitri Payet, Manuel Lazini, Andre Ayew.

Goals: Glenn Whelan OG 65                  .

Booked: Michail Antonio 12 Adrian San Miguel Del Castillo 76 Mark Noble 78      .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Stoke City: Grant, Bardsley, Shawcross, M.Indi, Pieters, Whelan, Adam; Walters, Allen, Sobhi , Bony.

Subs not used: Given, Muniesa, Verlinden, Imbula.

Goals: Bojan (75).

Booked: Allen.

Sent off: None.

Referee: Andre Marriner.

Attendance: 56,970.

Man of the Match: Pedro Obiang.