STOKE // Survival is so close for Stoke City, yet so infuriatingly difficult to secure. For the second successive week they were unable to earn the one win their manager, Tony Pulis, thinks they need, and were defeated by opposition from the capital. The biggest side in the Premier League, Stoke are the most unashamedly direct team in the division since Wimbledon were relegated a decade ago. For the diminutive Gianfranco Zola, it must have resembled Gulliver's Travels. West Ham, nonetheless, prospered in the land of the giants. This represented a triumph for purism over pragmatism. Diego Tristan's fine free kick produced a reward for their short passing game.
Pulis had completed the London marathon in four-and-a-half hours six days before. Stoke, like their manager, are determined characters who do not shirk physical labour. Their race is almost run, and nearly won. Their campaign, however, has been as notable for throwing as running. Stoke believed Rory Delap had provided them with another goal when Ricardo Fuller leapt with Robert Green to meet a throw and score with his knee.
Referee Peter Walton disallowed it as he did when, two minutes later, West Ham found their celebrations curtailed. Although Tristan finished coolly, David Di Michele had used his arm to divert the ball into his strike partner's path. The Spaniard was not to be denied, however, when he scored just the third goal of his short-term stay in London. After Abdoulaye Faye's misjudged challenge on Di Michele, Tristan placed his shot in the far corner of the goal. Stoke, renowned as set-piece specialists, trailed to a free kick.
It completed an unfortunate few minutes for the Stoke captain. Unmarked, he had met Liam Lawrence's corner but, no more than six metres from goal, he headed wastefully high. Yet Walton, not Faye, was emerging as the game's busiest figure. Luis Boa Morte could consider himself fortunate that a caution was the only sanction he received for a high challenge on Delap and a hint of retribution meant the Stoke midfielder received the same penalty. He also booked an aggrieved Lawrence for diving.
Fuller had been dismissed in the game at Upton Park for slapping his captain, Andy Griffin. The striker's reunion with West Ham was less ignominious, but no more enjoyable. After his disallowed goal, a spectacular volley landed several metres wide. A further Lawrence corner almost resulted in an equaliser, but Mark Noble cleared off the line to thwart Henri Camara. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org