Monday 23 October 2017

Robbie return fails to inspire Hammers as Stoke seal Wembley spot

Stoke 2
West Ham 1

Higginbotham: Goalscorer Photo: Getty Images
Higginbotham: Goalscorer Photo: Getty Images

Jason Burt

The last time Stoke City reached an FA Cup semi-final, Delilah was a Tom Jones single just four years old, not an ancient standard for the club's supporters.

That 1972 tie was lost and it has been a long wait since, but amid delirious scenes yesterday Stoke reached the last four of the competition for only the fourth time in their 148-year history.

They are yet to win it and face Bolton Wanderers at Wembley, a stadium they last visited for the AutoWindscreens Trophy final more than a decade ago.

"For two-and-a-half years since we got promoted we have been written off," Stoke manager Tony Pulis said. "We've got to three quarter-finals, two in the FA Cup and one in the Carling Cup, and now we've reached the semi-final. Everybody wrote us off but we haven't done badly."

West Ham's Irish striker Robbie Keane made a timely comeback from a calf injury to play the final 22 minutes, but there was little he could do to deny Stoke a richly deserved victory.

But up until Danny Higginbotham's 63rd-minute free-kick squirmed in, it appeared the story of the day would be the hapless referee Mick Jones.

Jones had wrongly allowed West Ham's goal -- Frederic Piquionne had clearly handled to control the ball -- and then also wrongly awarded Stoke a penalty after deciding that Matthew Etherington had been fouled by Scott Parker when the winger fell over.

Etherington missed the spot-kick and then Jones refused appeals for a Hammers penalty after James Tomkins fell to the ground in a tussle with Jon Walters.

"I think what happened at the end with Tomkins, it was more 'bushido' than a penalty," Grant said, strangely referring to the Japanese code of conduct for samurai. If only his players had shown the warrior way.

Grant's argument was that one penalty had been given, the other not because Jones wanted to even things up. "Like I say, maybe the effect of the first goal for us..." he said before his voice trailed off. "Until they scored the goal, he gave fouls and penalties, everything for them. But it was a penalty for us at the end and he didn't give it."

Stoke, however, fully deserved to win this tie and the only injustice would have been if Piquionne's goal had earned West Ham a replay.

West Ham were a pale shadow of the side who had demolished Stoke 3-0 last weekend, with Pulis looking to exploit the space behind the full-backs.

As such, Pulis decided to field, to popular approval, two old-fashioned wingers in Etherington and Irish hopeful Jermaine Pennant. The duo proved to be the game-breakers.

However, Grant must have been incredulous as Stoke's 12th-minute opener came direct from one of Rory Delap's exocet throw-ins, which whistled into the penalty area, only for Robert Huth to charge in, unmarked, and head powerfully home.

West Ham appeared incapable of gaining any momentum until Thomas Hitzlsperger flighted a superb long-ball which picked out Piquionne's diagonal run. The striker brought it down with his outstretched right arm, guiding the ball around Thomas Sorensen, but the movement was not detected by the officials and Piquionne bundled it home despite Huth's attempts to hook clear. "Stonewall handball," fumed Pulis.

Just 12 seconds into the second half Etherington ran between Tomkins and Parker and slid to the turf. The penalty was given, wrongly, but Etherington's kick lacked power and Green pushed it away. Back again came Stoke and after Carlton Cole was penalised for handball in charging down Pennant's free-kick, Jones awarded another right on the edge of the area.

Higginbotham took an almighty run-up and thumped it low. Green pushed it onto the post but the ball crept over the line.

Sorensen then saved from Victor Obinna and sub Keane before Matthew Upson headed against the bar in the dying minutes. West Ham were frantic but they were also beaten. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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