Sunday, November 2

Battling Hammers' Britannia fightback

Stoke 2 West Ham 2

Before the game it’s a pre-match pint or two of Peddy with my second cousin Terry and his pals Paul, Ed, Keith (in shorts), Andrew, Adam and Mark in the Gardeners Arms. All very agreeable, followed by a walk past the incinerator, over the canal and past the Oatcake Boat to the Britannia Stadium.

Inside the Boothen End it’s the usual raucous atmosphere as the home supporters howl whenever Song puts a tackle in. Though thankfully Big Phil hasn’t run naked round the stadium yet, which he promised to do after N’Zonzi scored on Wednesday night against Southampton.

Stoke have the better of the early exchanges with Moses and Bojan prominent. Valencia doesn’t look suited to playing as a lone striker and has obviously never come up against a defender like Ryan Shawcross. His appeals to the referee go unheeded and we rarely threaten. West Ham’s only chance is when Song’s one-two plays in Downing, who shoots wastefully past the post. “If Downing can play for England so can I!” chant the gleeful home fans.

The injured Winston Reid has to be replaced by Tomkins early on. Stoke take the lead with a messy goal after 33 minutes. A Cameron cross causes confusion in the box and Bojan’s shot spins off Collins into the path of Moses who prods home from nearly on the line. Adrian makes a great save with his feet to prevent Diouf making it two just before half time, as the City fans salute Bojan with a song about how he prefers Stoke to Barcelona.

Big Sam brings on Carlton Cole for Amalfitano at half-time to give us some threat up front. But the game looks over after 56 minutes. Cresswell dawdles on the left and Walters nicks the ball past him to send in a fine cross that is glanced home by the diving Diouf.

The wind whips up and swirls around the Britannia. Looks like we’ll do well to keep the score down. “If it were boxing the ref would have stopped it,” suggests Phil the Potter in front of me.

But suddenly West Ham are back in it. Alex Song dives in two-footed and should really be carded, but the ref waves play on. Stoke mess it up though, as Moses gives the ball away. Downing races down the right wing from his own half and plays in a fine cross. Valencia scores with an expert diving header, stooping to place it in the far corner. The Stoke fans go mental, insisting they should have had a free kick as the Hammers fans' sing, "Oh Enner Valencia!"

Bubbles comes from the away end as the Stokies suggest, “You can stick your f***ing Bubbles up your arse!” City almost make it 3-1 as N’Zonzi is denied by Adrian and Diouf heads wide from free kick. But there’s a new belief about West Ham now. Valencia weaves in from the left and plays in a low cross towards Stewart Downing who wallops the ball home with his right foot. He peels away and is engulfed on the touchline. Seems like Downing really is better than the wannabe internationals in the Boothen End.

We almost nick an unlikely win as Valencia is foiled by the onrushing Begovic. Stoke pile on pressure in an end-to-end final 15 minutes. But Collins is immense and Tomkins does well too. Adrian is regaled with chants of “Cheat! Cheat!” when he goes down winded in the box, before recovering  to make another crucial late save. Last season we’d have crumpled, but getting an unlikely point at the blustery Britannia where the crowd is always on to the ref is a sign of West Ham’s new resilience.

My train journey back to London is much happier than it might have been, even if Arsenal have edged us out of fourth place on goal difference. Bubbles and “Two-nil and you f**ked it up!” echo around the concourse as the happy Hammers fans return to Euston. We’ve had some luck with Song’s challenge not being punished, but there’s a new belief about this side. Seventeen points from ten games – we’ll take that.

TEAM RATINGS: Adrian 7; Jenkinson 6, Reid 5 (Tomkins 7), Collins 8, Cresswell 5;  Song 6, Noble 5 (Nolan 5), Downing 8, Kouyate 5, Amalfitano 5 (Cole 6); Valencia 7.

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