Premier League - Hammers escape drop zone
West Ham United lifted themselves out of the Premier League relegation zone with a 3-0 win over Stoke City at Upton Park.
Demba Ba, who only signed for the Hammers after a failing a medical with Stoke, took advantage of a clanger from keeper Asmir Begovic to open the scoring midway through the first half - and Manuel Da Costa doubled the lead with a towering header on 29 minutes.
Other than a brief spell following the introduction of Kenwyne Jones and Ricardo Fuller, Stoke offered almost nothing in attack, and the result was put beyond any doubt on 83 minutes when Thomas Hitzlsperger smashed home a rebound from close range.
The result sees West Ham leapfrog Birmingham into 17th position, while Stoke drop to 12th.
Though the afternoon turned out an enjoyable and comfortable one for West Ham fans, it had begun in decidedly dull fashion, with a tame header from Ryan Shawcross on the stretch the only moment of note in an opening 20 minutes that lacked any quality whatsoever.
The Hammers faithful were then brought to their feet by Begovic's error. The Stoke goalkeeper was clear favourite to win the race to a hopeful long ball over the top, but totally missed his clearance and almost cleaned out team-mate Mark Wilson in the process - allowing Ba to run on to the loose ball and stab home into an empty net.
West Ham manager Avram Grant had opted to play the tall Portuguese Da Costa in central defence alongside Matthew Upson in order to deal with Stoke’s aerial threat, and as well as turning in an exemplary defensive display, he provided the crucial second goal. Hitzlsperger floated a fine free-kick to the back post and Da Costa rose high above his marker Walters before planting a superb header past Begovic, who this time could do nothing.
While John Carew appeared isolated up front for the visitors, West Ham’s front trio of Ba, Frederic Piquionne and Carlton Cole were buzzing all afternoon; however Piquionne squandered a golden opportunity to put his side out of sight just before half-time.
James Tomkins saw a header ricochet wide off the post at the start of the second half, prompting Stoke boss Tony Pulis to try to inject some life into his side by introducing West Ham old boy Matthew Etherington in place of the disappointing Jermaine Pennant.
Etherington provided the spark that Stoke had hitherto been missing, and Rory Delap gave Robert Green his first real test of the afternoon with a rasping drive from all of 30 yards that the West Ham keeper managed to parry behind for a corner.
It was only when Jones and Fuller were brought on that Etherington’s impact was really felt, however; Jones had a great opportunity to pull a goal back for his side from Etherington’s fine cross from the right, but could only glance his header wide of the far post.
Stoke’s uncertainty in defence ensured West Ham were always in the hunt for the goal that would kill the game off, and that almost provided Ba with his second of the afternoon following a misunderstanding between Begovic and Ryan Shawcross that the former managed to atone for by clawing away Ba’s goal-bound volley at full stretch.
Begovic was called on again to tip a low Cole shot wide with 10 minutes to go before Hitzlsperger settled matters on 83 minutes.
The excellent Scott Parker went on a driving run that took him in behind the Stoke defence before squaring the ball back for Piquionne - and after his shot was blocked by Robert Huth, Hitzlsperger reacted quickest to drive the ball home emphatically from close range.
Fuller sent a curling shot inches past the post soon after, the closest Stoke would come to a goal. They will now head into their next two Premier League fixtures against Newcastle and Chelsea just three points clear of the relegation zone.