Monday, May 16

Missed chances cost Hammers at Stoke

Stoke City 2 West Ham United 1

It’s off to Stoke on the 10.20am from Euston and a meeting with my second cousin Terry who’s secured tickets among the Stokies – my mum came from Stoke before meeting my dad (an Essex Man). Terry takes me to the Gardeners Retreat where they serve a nice pint of Pedigree, but it’s under new management and the crush at the bar resembles the Central. I purchase a copy of The Oatcake fanzine and various Stoke fans in replica shirts reminisce about leaving the Victoria Ground. Matt doesn’t make it to the Gardeners as being a man of culture, he’s delayed looking at the pottery museum and art gallery in Hanley.

It’s a lovely day and there’s a rare sighting on the sun in Stoke as we head past the incinerator and over the motorway, across the reclaimed colliery site and up “cardiac hill” to the Britannia, where David Gold’s Roller is prominent in the car park. We’re in the Stoke fans next to the away section where we have a fine view of the artistic designs mowed on to the pitch and can see the hills of Stoke through the corner of the ground by the Boothen End. The home fans also seem very keen to tell West Ham where to stick their effing bubbles. The Hammers fans are having a party when Tottenham fucked it up. Though the bad news is Payet’s out with an injury picked up against Man United.

Despite the absence of Payet, West Ham completely dominate the first-half against a pedestrian Stoke, as Kouyate immediately races down the wing to won a corner. We take the lead after 20 minutes as Reid gets his head on to Lanzini’s corner and Antonio is allowed to turn by the Stoke defence and shoot past Given. Europa League here we come. West Ham should get a second; Sakho chests down Antonio’s cross but shoots wide and Kouyate shoots over when well placed.

Meanwhile news comes through that Man United’s game with Bournemouth has been postponed after a bomb alert. Turns out it’s a training device not cleared away by their equivalent of Mr Moon. Still, at least no fans from Manchester will be affected.

Antonio has been excellent on the wing and at the start of the second half he races down the right and presents a perfect cross for Sakho who seems certain to score. Instead he allows veteran Given to pull off a fine save and you wonder if that moment is crucial.

Sure enough, Hughes has had words with Stoke, and a determined run by Shawcross raises the crowd. Ten minutes into the second half Imbula is allowed slightly too much space and fires home a low shot from the outside  the box. Perhaps Randolph should have done better.

But West Ham still press for a winner, though Bilic surprisingly takes off Carroll and replaces his with Valencia, while Emenike replaces Carroll and the Stoke fans suggests Andy’s off to the bar. News come through that Spurs are getting thrashed at Newcastle and the West Ham fans are all having a party when Tottenham f**ked it up.

Adam nearly scores from the hallway line only to be foiled by the alert Randolph. There’s a tremendous flurry of pressure from a corner as Emenike and Antonio are foiled by two brilliant parries from Given on his line. Valencia heads a chance over the bar that Carroll might have scored and then gets in an overhead kick that Kouyate heads goalwards. Most of the ball is over the line bar half an inch, but Whelan somehow manages to clear. I start to think that, knowing football, Stoke will now score a winner as we’ve done everything but score.

Two minutes from time Stoke win a corner. Sub Diouf is unaccountably unmarked and powers home a header before doing a double somersault and running into the crowd. That should improve their lap of honour, but we really should have won this easily. "It's the first time we've scored from a corner this season," reveals Terry. 

The Stoke fans chant “You’re not going on a European tour!”, more suggestions about Bubbles and “You’re f**king shit, you’re f**king shit!” Delilah booms out. Forgive me West Ham, I just couldn't take any more. 

The game ends after five minutes of added time and we’re now relying on Man United beating Palace in the FA Cup and have snatched seventh place from the jaws of sixth. But it’s still been a season that was better than anyone suspected and I’ve been pleased to see us play today; after the Boleyn farewell seeing the lads on the pitch was tangible proof that the club goes on.

So it’s back to the station where I finally manage to meet Matt who’s witnessed a West Ham fan banging his dreadlocks into the concrete wall after Sakho’s miss. Luckily Matt has Roger Protz’s programme notes on Stoke and we walk to the Titanic-themed White Star pub (the Titanic’s captain came from Stoke) for a very palatable pint of Titanic plum porter, which is rather an apt brewer considering our European hopes might just have been holed. Matt has the pleasing fact that has we reached the FA Cup Final it would have been the longest season in PL history. It all started on July 2 against FC Lusitans. So now we’re all going to have to support LVG’s men on Saturday before we can finally relax…

PLAYER RATINGS: Randolph 6; Tomkins 6 (Moses n/a), Ogbonna 6, Reid 6, Cresswell 6; Lanzini 7, Noble 6, Kouyate 7, Antonio 8, Sakho 5 (Emineke 6), Carroll 6 (Valencia 6).

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