Fuller on target for Stoke
27th March 2010
On our last visit to Upton Park we ended up on the wrong end of a 2-1 defeat and saw Ric Fuller sent off for striking Andy Griffin as we appeared to be plummeting towards the abyss of the Championship in disarray.
15 months on and the differences could hardly have been more striking. This time it's the Hammers that are staring down into the murky depths of the Football League and Ricardo pulls out one of his very best rabbits from his hat to justifiably earn the Potters yet another year of Premier League football.
Tony Pulis had the headache of some players suffering from the effects of flu and food poisoning forcing him to drop Ricardo Fuller to the bench, but he took a chance with Matty Etherington who was obviously desperate to play against his former club. This allowed Mamady Sidibe another start alongside Dave Kitson with Tuncay also on the bench. Liam Lawrence come in for the suspended Dean Whitehead.
West Ham attempted to take the sting out of Delap with some specially imported advertising hoardings strategically placed along the touchline but, as when Burnley tried that tactic a couple of weeks ago, it was a futile exercise and it only took him a couple of attempts before the throws where right on target in the six yard box. Rory even managed to dismantle them at one point being quickly rebuilt by the Hammers' ground staff.
As you'd expect under the circumstances, it was a match of little quality and it was home side that saw the best opportunities in the first half. But when it's all going against you, then not even a couple of gift-wrapped chances could be taken. Mido seemed surprised when he had a clear shot on goal and failed to wrap it up and Cole was foiled by an advancing Sorensen when he failed to control the ball.
The Potters also had chances of their own. Lawrence's corner kick was flicked on to Abdy Faye via Kitson, but the skipper's angle was far too acute and he was unable to do much except fire it at Robert Green in a crowded goalmouth. Lawrence had a chance all his own, but he fired wide and Danny Higginbotham also saw a shot in a goalmouth melee go begging.
The Potters' plans were given a setback after Faye twisted his knee and they were forced to bring on Andy Wilkinson after just 30 minutes.
The second half was only a couple of minutes old when a second injury forced another early change. Dave Kitson pulled up with an injury and was replaced by Tuncay as Pulis decided to keep the ailing Fuller on the sidelines as long as possible, but ten minutes later Matty Etherington was obviously tiring and he decided to give Ric a run-out for the final half-hour. But it only took two minutes for the Jamaican to make his mark on the match in the only way he knows.
We've all seen Ric's Mazy Runs from the edge of the opponents' penalty area many times. He can open up a defence just as easily as you or I would open a tin of beans, sometimes he finishes it off himself, other times he gifts the result to a team-mate to score. Today he excelled himself - first going through Da Costa and Behrami, then slipping past two English internationals (Upson and Parker) before sliding the ball past England's first choice keeper for the winner.
But this was no 'smash and grab' as we witnessed at Spurs. The home side huffed and puffed, but couldn't blow the Potters' house down and Stoke thoroughly deserved the three points which lifted us well into mid-table safety.