Substitute Jack Collison scored the winner in first half stoppage time as West Ham United recorded a 1-0 win over Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium.
Sam Allardyce’s pre-match preparation was thrown into disarray as he lost Matthew Taylor and Joe Cole to injury with 11 minutes gone but their replacements - Ricardo Vaz Te and Jack Collison - combined in first-half stoppage time for Collison to give the visitors a deserved half-time lead.
Stoke improved on an abject first half performance but were restricted to efforts from distance or half-hearted penalty appeals as West Ham looked to be closing the game out in relative ease.
However, a flurry of stoppage time action almost salvaged a draw for the home side but Charlie Adam’s exquisite volley came back off the bar before referee Jon Moss elected not to give what looked a pretty certain handball inside the box from Guy Demel.
The significance of this fixture had been intensified by virtue of an identical record coming into the match that has seen strong seasons tempered by a record of four points from their last seven games.
Just six points above the relegation zone, West Ham appeared in more immediate danger of being dragged into a relegation battle and Allardyce was without influential captain Kevin Nolan for the trip to Staffordshire. Gary O’Neil retained his place in midfield with Andy Carroll leading the line against a somewhat makeshift Stoke defence.
Marc Wilson shuffled across to partner captain Ryan Shawcross at the centre of defence in the absence of Robert Huth, who began his three match suspension while Cameron Jerome was up front alongside Peter Crouch in a change of formation to 4-4-2.
Stoke had lost five of their last seven Premier League games but had accumulated 24 of their 33 points at the Britannia and, operating with a front two, began in the ascendancy only for an injury-enforced West Ham double substitution to cut their early fluency short.
The Hammers, who were already without first-choice injured duo Nolan and Mark Noble, were to lose Taylor to a head injury following a high Peter Crouch foot and then Cole to a hamstring strain with a little over ten minutes gone, but, if anything, the changes galvanised the visitors as their re-jigged midfield – composed of Vaz Te and Jack Collison and led by Mohamed Diame – began to assert increasing influence over the game.
As the possession stats began to look increasingly impressive for the visitors, West Ham began to create some decent chances – the best of the opening half an hour fell to the head of James Collins but his header clipped the top of the crossbar.
Despite a lacklustre showing, Stoke offered some threat on the break but Winston Reid was a capable adversary for the pace of Jerome, and Tony Pulis would have been the far happier of the two managers with a scoreless half as it drew to a close.
But with the half in the last of the three allotted added minutes, referee Jon Moss played the advantage as Carroll was hauled down on the edge of the box allowing Vaz Te to collect the loose ball and reverse it into the path Collison who kept his composure to fire past the onrushing Asmir Begovic to give his side a deserved lead at the interval.
The Potters began the second half with more intent and Jerome continued to threaten and it was he who felt aggrieved when he went down under the challenge of Joey O’Brien having latched onto another Crouch flick, but the referee was unmoved and rightly so as O’Brien got a toe-end to the ball just as the former Birmingham man shaped to shoot five minutes into the second period.
Stoke were toiling hard, but, with Reid and Collins in determined form, they struggled to fashion any real clear cut chances as the half progressed – with Crouch’s tame effort from the edge of the box the sole fruit of their labour as the clock hit 70 minutes.
The Hammers remained a threat on the break and Vaz Te should have sealed all three points but he elected to try to come back inside the advancing Begovic when he would have been better served shooting first time – in doing so, he allowed Steven Nzonzi the chance to clear.
The late introduction of Kenwyne Jones and Brek Shea gave the hosts more thrust but they were denied a leveller first by the crossbar and then referee Jon Moss’s decision not to punish what looked like a clear Demel handball in the final minute.
MAN OF THE MATCH:
James Collins, West Ham – A colossus at the back in the face of a two-pronged Stoke attack – the former Aston Villa man dominated Crouch all game to ensure all three points went back to the East End.
STOKE CITY: Begovic 6, Shotton 6, Shawcross 5, Wilson 5, Wilkinson 5, Walters 5, Whelan 5, Nzonzi 5, Kightly 5, Jerome 5, Crouch 5. Subs: Jones 5, Adam 5, Shea 5.
WEST HAM UNITED: Jaaskelainen 6, Demel 6, Collins 8, Reid 7, O'Brien 6, J Cole 4, O'Neil 5, Diame 6, Taylor 6, Jarvis 6, Carroll 6. Subs: Pogatetz 5, Collison 7, Vaz Te 7.