x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Ba has West Ham believing

"One of the best strikers in Germany" rewards Grant's faith after Stoke failed to pick him but Ba has the last laugh.

Demba Ba bundles the ball into the Stoke City net for West Ham's first goal in a comfortable 3-0 win at Upton Park yesterday. Ben Stansall / AFP
Demba Ba bundles the ball into the Stoke City net for West Ham's first goal in a comfortable 3-0 win at Upton Park yesterday. Ben Stansall / AFP

LONDON // The risks are beginning to pay off for West Ham United.

The one taken on a subsidised new Olympic Stadium home that has David Sullivan and David Gold increasing their shareholding in a club with a suddenly brightening financial future.

And the risk taken on the "ticking time bomb" knee that had Demba Ba failing a medical at Stoke City before taking employment in the East End.

Four goals in four Premier League appearances is the return on the last of those, with the Senegal international's somewhat fortunate opener here initiating a comprehensive defeat yesterday of the club who rejected him.

West Ham's first set of back-to-back home league wins in 11 months was sufficient to extract them from the drop zone.

"I'm very happy Stoke did that," said Avram Grant, the West Ham coach. "Nobody knew about Demba before I wanted to sign him. Stoke and Everton didn't know who he was and I followed him a long, long time as one of the best strikers in Germany.

"We brought him here, his name was in the paper and all the others teams started to be interested. But at the end of the day he came to the team that wanted him from the beginning.

"I must say that I was confident in this team. If you take all the 10 or 12 times we drew, 80 per cent of the time we were the better team. Even in the games that we lost. I was confident that we could improve a few things and the injured players were coming back."

It has been one of Grant's better weeks. On Friday he was fielding questions about Roman Abramovich's interest in bringing him back to Chelsea as sporting director - a bizarre situation for a man with just seven wins in 29 league games at West Ham, and whose principle achievement in his last stint at Stamford Bridge had been to depose the club's most successful manager.

With his entire senior squad fit to train for the first time this campaign and an energising victory over Liverpool to build on, Grant reshaped his team to meet Stoke's unsubtle challenge.

"The tallest West Ham team I've ever seen," was the stadium announcer's verdict on an 11 that added the elevation of Manuel da Costa and Carlton Cole while shifting James Tomkins from centre to right-back to aid the aerial combat.

The opening goal was inelegant. Mark Noble's direct through ball could have been gathered by Asmir Begovic or cleared by Marc Wilson but neither connected properly and it ran invitingly ahead of Ba.

As Wilson leaned on him, the former Hoffenheim forward stumbled into the six-yard box yet still found enough purchase to find the empty net. Stoke responded by collecting yellow cards; Wilson, Ryan Shawcross and Danny Pugh indulging in late tackles.

West Ham, with Ba and Frederic Piquionne spreading the visiting defence across the park, began creating chances in abundance.

Thomas Hitzlsperger and Piquionne came close; Da Costa required just one invitation. The Portuguese defender rose above Stoke's Jon Walters at the back post to bludgeon Hitzlsperger's precisely flighted free kick beyond Begovic and West Ham had their cushion.

"We're getting our bottoms smacked for every mistake we make," said Tony Pulis, the Stoke manager, who threw on Matthew Etherington, Ricardo Fuller and Kenwyne Jones in quick succession, almost receiving immediate dividend from the latter.

The game, though, had become stretched, offering opportunity on the counter. Cole had two shots saved and sent another past an upright before Scott Parker removed all residual concerns by manufacturing a final goal.

The midfielder rounded Glenn Whelan to reach the byline and cross for Piquionne, whose shot rebounded to Hitzlsperger. The German was one Hammer taking no risks as he put his full force behind the ball to drive it into the roof of the net.

sports@thenational.ae