WEST HAM UNITED 0 STOKE CITY FC 1
Stoke are now within one point of their safety target thanks to Ricardo Fuller.The match looked odds on for a noscore draw until he popped up with an individual piece of magic.
The team Tony Pulis put out was a patched up affair, but still well able to cope with a star studded Hammers outfit.Suspended Dean Whitehead was replaced by Liam Lawrence.Three squad players had been affected by a stomach bug.Defender Davies did not travel with the team to east London.Although affected Etherington lasted 67 minutes against his former teammates.The other player was Fuller himself,who was considered fit for the bench.Mama Sidibe took his place in the starting lineup.
Further enforced changes saw Abdy Faye replaced by Wilkinson part way through the first half, and Dave Kitson by Tuncay within a minute or so of the restart.
The first half did not produce many chances,Faye heading wide for Stoke, Mido making a complete mess of an opportunity from a rebound,when he only had Sorensen to beat from six yards out.
The second half meandered along in pretty much the same fashion,neither side looking likely to land a knockout punch, until Fuller came on for Etherington in the 67th minute.
Within two minutes he had transformed the game.We can all remember his mazey (?) run against Villa,beating several defenders,looking likely to score the winner,but at the last moment scuffing his shot.
Today he delivered.A poor West Ham throw in was intercepted by Danny Collins,who lobbed a hopeful ball forward in Fuller's direction.The Jamaican was first to the ball, brought it under control,back to goal,turned,skinned defender da Costa,turned England man Upson inside out,then,imperiously,placed the ball past exposed England keeper Green into the net.
Loved his understated celebration,and as MOTD pundits concurred,a fine goal,good enough to win any match.....and so it did this one! Bar one or two minor scares Stoke comfortably saw out the remaining time.