Sunday, April 12

Arnie terminates Hammers' hopes of three points

West Ham 1 Stoke City 1

Best part of the day is showing Terry and David, my mum’s Stokie relatives, the sights of the East End. First it’s Ken’s Café where they find the bacon egg and chips almost as palatable as oatcakes and then a stroll to the Central, where I explain the rubble in the beer garden is surely a distressed design feature introduced by hipsters (possibly). We sup from plastic skiffs in a garden full of Stoke fans drinking from pitchers of ale and Terry bumps into a pal from Leek. Then it’s on to the ground to take in the pre-match atmosphere.

The game has an end of season atmosphere in the sunshine and the crowd is unusually subdued as the Stoke fans ask, “Is this a library?” West Ham have a good opening 15 minutes. Collins gets his head on a corner and Kouyate blazes across the goal. After 12 minutes Valencia is fouled by Whelan on the edge of the area. Nigel offers to bet Matt £100 that we’ll score. Being a vicar’s son opposed to all vices, Matt foolishly declines, as Aaron Cresswell curls a screamer into the top corner. A great start for the Hammers.

Instead of capitalising on an early goal we allow Stoke into the game as Moses and Walters get in dangerous crosses and N’Zonzi and Adam dominate midfield. Moses hits a shot wide and manages to injure himself in the process. A swift break just before half-time sees Valencia do well and Kouyate scuff his shot wide of the post.

The second half is our worst performance of the season, with the entire side donning flip-flops and the midfield disappearing. Song and Noble have faded after a promising start and Downing has hardly been in the game. Arnautovic has the ball in the net from Adam’s through ball, but it’s disallowed, correctly, for offside. Allardyce takes off Song for Nolan in a bid to restore some leadership. Sakho goes off injured and is replaced by Cole after 59 minutes, which doesn’t help us. Cole’s nuisance value does allow Kouyate to burst through and hit a decent shot that Begovic parries, but it’s our only effort of the half.

Stoke enjoy an astonishing 65 per cent of possession in the match as we try to sit back and play on the break. Valencia isn’t fit to last the game and is replaced by Amalfitano after 78 minutes. West Ham receive another warning as Ireland Crosses and Diouf hits the inside of a post with a header. Cole has a rare header wide from Downing's cross and then it's back to Stoke domination. It looks like we might limp home to an undeserved win until the five minutes of added time. West Ham are second to the ball all afternoon and the lack of pressing is terrible. The players don’t look like they’re playing to save Big Sam’s job and it seems astonishing that this was the side that beat Man City and Liverpool.

We escape again as Ireland crosses for Arnautovic to net, only for the goal to be again ruled out for being marginally offside. It’s into the fifth added minute and we lose two headed challenges, allowing Arnautovic to run at our defence, outspeeding Reid and Cresswell and finishing well with a shot into the corner in the corner. The away end erupts and it’s a deserved equaliser. It’s hard to even be disappointed, as we’ve so manifestly not deserved to win.

“On the positive side, we’re now safe on 43 points,” I quip.

At least there’s another drink in the Central afterwards and the chance for the Stokies to see Amir Begovic getting into a black people carrier in the car park. We can’t switch off with six games to go, and this was an unprofessional performance.  Some of the team might be new to the Premier League but other teams have that problem too. Players should be dropped/rested and posteriors kicked before we play at Man City.

TEAM RATINGS: Adrian 6; Jenkinson 5, Reid 5, Collins 6, Cresswell 6; Song 5 (Nolan 5), Noble 5, Kouyate 6, Downing 4; Sakho 5 (Cole 5), Valencia 5 (Amalfitano 4).

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