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Stalemate in east London

PARTY TIME: West Ham celebrate their equaliser

WHILE THIS encounter progressed beyond its turgid opening to deliver a decent night’s entertainment Tony Pulis was left fuming at Joey O’Brien’s equaliser.

The West Ham defender’s equaliser, which cancelled out Jonathan Walters’ first-half strike, was all the more galling for Stoke given that O’Brien looked offside as he met the ball.

At 1-1 West Ham looked the most likely winners but were unable to force home their advantage. In light of the east Londoners’ dubious equaliser a point was a fair return for a Stoke side who are now without an away Premier League victory in 16 matches.

The attritional opening was anticipated as West Ham did their best to evade their visitors’ tight marking and tireless attempts to close down their opponents.

Andy Carroll drew applause for a cross field pass and his desire to challenge for the ball, but Stoke had the greater focus in the opening stages. The visitors were rewarded for their patient probing on 13 minutes and it is no surprise that it came from a set-piece.

Walters ran unchecked onto Glenn Whelan’s corner to drill home first time at the near post. Carroll and Jussi Jaaskelainen looked to have it covered but the net rippled and Stoke took the lead with their first serious attempt.

The hosts appeared shell-shocked but as the match approached the 30-minute mark Kevin Nolan and Mohamed Diame began to influence proceedings, causing uncertainty among the hitherto assured Stoke backline.

Chances for Carroll, Nolan and James Tomkins but drew little more than regulation saves from Asmir Begovic. For their part, the visitors continued to look menacing with every foray.

Steven Nzonzi came closest to extending their lead when he rattled the underside of the crossbar on 38 minutes with another first-time drive. It would have been the least the French midfielder deserved having presided over this contest with a calm authority.

The time-wasting tactics of Begovic belittled a Stoke side that were good value for their lead going into the break.

Yet the hosts emerged reinvigorated and Nolan should have restored parity from point-blank range but he could only tamely meet George McCartney’s cross. The one-two with Diame that released the Northern Ireland left-back was the hosts’ best move of the match and emboldened the east Londoners.

Two minutes later Joey O’Brien had claimed an equaliser. Diame was continuing to attract the attention of his opponents and it enabled the Senegalese to pick out the unmarked Gary O’Neil, who squared for O’Brien to raise the Upton Park roof. Pulis will correctly point to replays that suggest O’Brien was offside.

Stoke continued to threaten intermittently on the counter-attack but the most likely winner now appeared to be the hosts despite Begovic’s increasingly insistent desire to waste time at free-kicks and goal kicks.

Yet when Diame teed up O’Neil on 64 minutes and the Englishman dragged his curling shot wide it was about as close as the match came to providing a winner despite West Ham’s late frenzy.

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