Sunday, March 3

Happy Jack

Stoke City 0 West Ham 1

It’s up on the 10.46am train to Stoke, where my maternal family links have proved useful. My late mum’s cousin Terry has got me a ticket in The Boothen End, along with his son Dave and pals Keith (in shorts) and his son-in-law Mark. First off it’s a trip to the legendary Gardeners Arms, where there’s Marstons Pedigree and Hobgoblin to spare and an eager crowd of drinking Stokies.

After a couple of pints we walk past the incinerator and over the canal to the Britannia Stadium, and take our seats in the Boothen End. Meanwhile Big Joe texts to say he’s had his Saturday Guardian confiscated by stewards in the away end who regard it as a fire risk. When he asks why he’s allowed to bring his programme in he’s told it’s flame-retardant.

We have the worst possible start, Taylor gets a boot wrapped round the head from Crouch’s overhead kick and has to go off after ten minutes and a minute later Joe Cole is withdrawn with a hamstring problem. Though actually it’s a piece of serendipity. Allardyce is forced into fielding a more attacking side with Vaz Te and Collison on, and the pair both impress.

“You can stick yer f***ing Bubbles up your arse!” chant the cockney-hating home fans, followed by “Andy Carroll are you still pissed?”

It’s a scrappy game but Reid and Collins are covering well and West Ham are passing the ball better. Diame has a not-very convincing penalty claim rejected. Vaz Te’s shot is deflected for a corner, it’s cleared and O’Neil crosses for James Collins to loop a header on to the top of the bar. A fine move on the right sees Jarvis cross for Carroll to mishead a good chance wide.

The home fans are getting restless as Keith next to me is muttering that it’s the worst half he’s ever seen. It’s looking like a goalless half as the 45 minutes is up until Shawcross clatters Carroll on the edge of the box, the ref waves play on and Vaz Te finds Collison with a fine reverse ball. Happy Jack slides it into the corner. A great time to score, though I resist doing a double somersault among the Stokies. One-nil to the Guardian-reading pyromaniac cockneys.

A second half onslaught from the Potters never quite materializes. A nice one-two with Vaz Te and Jarvis sees the winger shoot at the legs of Begovic. A decent chance. With Pennant dropped and Etherington injured Stoke lack width and Walters, played out of position, is getting stick from the Boothen End, as is the hapless Whelan. The man in front of me has such a broad Potteries accent that I simply agree with him. Turns out no-one else understands him either.

“F***ing hell Pulis! Same old league one s**t!” shouts the angriest fan in the world a few rows behind us. The fans next shout back telling him to effing shut-up.

Crouch has a tame effort easily saved by Jaaskelainen. City have a loud penalty appeal turned down, correctly, as O’Brien makes a great tackle to deny Jerome.

West Ham should then wrap it up. Collison dawdles in the box but finds Vaz Te, who unaccountably tries to cut inside rather then shoot. Never safe at one-nil.

Charlie Adam comes on and Dave a few rows back reports that one Stokie has to be restrained from fighting another over the issue of whether Adam is crap or not. Always a good sign when the home fans are arguing among themselves. With half an hour to go Stokies Keith and Mark head back towards the sanctuary of the Gardners Arms. Forgive them Delilah, they just couldn't take any more. 

Bubbles and Twist and Shout ring out from the away end.

In added time Adam crosses with one free kick rather than shooting, but then fires a brilliant dipping 25-yarder on to the bar. A let-off for the Irons there. But Collins is performing heroics at the back, blocking everything and O'Neil should be praised for some calm passing in front of the back four. We then survive a penalty appeal as the ball bounces on to Demel’s hand. There’s a flood of expletives from red-faced fans who make my mate Matt in the East Stand seem like a vicar’s son.

It’s a nerve-wracking five minutes of added time but we hold out for a massive three points. Stoke have been poor but we've done what we had to.

The disgruntled Stoke fans trek home past the incinerator plant. Terry and his wife Dorothy drive me to the station and on the radio there’s more entertainment from Stoke fans phoning in saying they’re not renewing their season tickets and Pulis should go. It’s actually only their second home defeat of the season and they should be careful what they wish for: think Mick McCarthy and Wolves.

It’s on to the 18.12pm train back to London and a chorus of Bubbles echoing around Euston. One win and a couple of draws from ten games should keep us up now and this could be the most vital win of the season. Irons!

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