Monday, September 20

Drawing drawing West Ham!

Stoke City 1 West Ham 1

It’s an early start on the Virgin Pendolino to Stoke, accompanied by the back page of the Sun claiming that we’re already in Dyer Straights. The paper claims Kieron Dyer has walked out after only being named as a sub today — although Dyer’s agent swiftly denies this. Matt texts to say, possibly with some irony, that "Kieron is just the sort of tough tackling pitbull type you need at Stoke".

On arrival it’s a swift walk to Hanley past the sign proclaiming ‘University Quarter’ and then a tour of Stoke’s “Cultural Quarter’ (it’s got a museum and theatre alongside many boarded up pubs and shops). Indeed it’s so cultured that I purchase a 94p packet of oatcakes for Her Indoors from Wrights bakers.

Then it’s on to the Gardners Arms with Terry, my second cousin once removed on my mum’s side, now living in Crewe, and his son David, an exiled Stokie in York. The Pedigree’s decent when you can finally get served and everyone’s impressed by Tony Pulis turning up at half time against Aston Villa on the day his mum died. Although the City fans still don’t understand why he plays four centre backs.

I fear my couple of pints will be necessary to ameliorate another Hammers debacle as we pass the incinerator and walk across post-industrial wasteland to the Britannia. I’m in the Boothen End with the Stokies.

An interesting selection by the absent Avram. Da Costa’s in for Ben Haim and Ilunga is dropped for Gabbidon, while Piquionne floats alongside Obinna and Cole.

Stoke look pedestrian in midfield as Noble and Parker pass it around nicely. For once we don’t concede early on and the side looks better balanced with Jacobsen efficient at right back and Da Costa winning aerial balls.

Pennant threatens to skin the put of position Gabbidon a few times, but you can see Grant’s thinking in playing another centre back, as Gabbidon’s height proves useful when Delap launches his long throws.

Stoke’s only threat is from a free kick, when Green appears to find the ball covered in extra virgin virgin olive oil and it squirms away to Huth, who hits a post.

“Dodgy keeper!” chant the Boothen End, and “Nice one Robert, nice one son!”

We’re playing controlled football and Obinna and Piquionne are causing problems with their speed on the break. Collins fouls Behrami and from Obinna’s free-kick Parker bundles the ball home after it rebounds in the box. The unthinkable has happened, we’ve taken the lead for the first time this season… I can’t cheer but I can quietly clench a fist in celebration.

“You can stick your f***ing bubbles up your arse!” chant the home fans, along with a few cries of “cockney c••ts” and “get stuck in to these southern pansies!”

Then Piquionne picks up the ball in midfield and fires a thirty-yarder against the bar. We go in at the interval deservedly leading.

Stoke come out fired up for the second half. City’s best player, Jermain Pennant, fires in a fantastic cross that eludes Green and Jones dives in front of Da Costa to score a classic centre-forward’s goal.

Defeat appears to be looming as City fans sing a bizarre song about “Etherington, Etherington, running down the wing!” to the tune of Robin Hood. Jones muscles his way past Upson and Green makes a fantastic fingertip save to push his shot on to the post.

We survive ten minutes of panic, and Kovac, on for the injured Behrami, does a good job breaking down attacks and calming things down.

We nearly score when Obinna has a shot palmed past the post by Sorenson and then the keeper makes a great stop from Da Costa’s header from the corner.

Fuller heads a Delap long-throw in to the ground and it bounces on to Green’s bar. Phew.

The last five minutes are agony but somehow we hold on for our first point of the season. Green even manages to catch a long throw, which will do his confidence good. If we’d lost five in a row it would have looked terminal. "We've got a point, we've got a point, we've got one… West Ham's got a point!"

An encouraging performance; we didn’t let three in for once, the defence was more solid, the three-pronged attack showed promise and we showed an ability to dig in for a result. Now let’s bring on the Lasagne-Eaters.

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