West Ham United reserves 1-0 Stoke City reserves
Daniel Kearns scored the only goal as West Ham United moved up to third in the Barclays Premier Reserve League South in the final home match of the season.
The Northern Irish youth international struck with just two minutes on the clock at the Woodside Park home of Bishop's Stortford. After being found eight yards from goal by the unselfish Balint Bajner, Kearns, 17, took a touch before a neat finish with the outside of his right foot. Kearns remained a danger all night - particularly from set-pieces but clear-cut chances were hard to come by.
In truth, West Ham could have added to their goal difference as they dominated from start to finish against an equally inexperienced Stoke side on Tuesday night - with Zavon Hines unlucky not to register from a lively run-out. These two sides had met at Nantwich Town FC just over a week ago, when the Hammers ran out 2-0 winners.
Peter Kurucz did not have a save to make all night while the back four stood firm, marshalled as ever by captain Bondz N'Gala and Matthew Fry, who had moved back inside after a recent run at left-back. Oliver Lee and Georg Grasser had full-back duties with both underlining their versatility while Conor Okus in the holding role offered plenty of protection. Holmar Orn Eyjolfsson and Ryan O'Neill both missed out through injury.
That solid base allowed Alex Dyer's attack-minded side to push on, with Hines and Kearns swapping flanks at will while Anthony Edgar and Cristian Montano also got forward. Academy director Tony Carr was among the crowd along with midfielder Josh Payne, and the latter would have served as an incentive to all those on view about the potential route through from the reserves to the first team.
Hines has already had a brief taste and began the contest with a surging run down the flank before firing in a menacing cross that was only just cleared. As the ball came back in, it was Bajner who found himself in a position to square from a tight angle into the path of the on-rushing Kearns who made no mistake to score. Hines then twice crossed for Bajner but the Hungarian youngster was just unable to connect.
On 21 minutes, Bajner capitalised on a defensive mistake before striding through on goal. Just as a shot seemed imminent, he squared for Cristian Montano to fire in an effort only for Stoke to regroup and get the ball away. Anthony Edgar, who hit a stunner against the same opponents eight days before in the reverse fixture, tried his luck on the half-hour but his effort fizzed just wide.
The second half was again a story of home possession with the neat interplay continuing between Kearns, Hines and Bajner but chances remained at a premium. Kearns could have had a second seven minutes after the interval but could not keep his shot down before seeing a curling free-kick just miss the frame of the goal as the hour approached. At the back, Fry and N'Gala continued to keep Stoke's forwards in check with relative ease.
Montano had a spectacular effort on 67 minutes but it was straight at Tom Harrison, while Hines continued to probe as both sides tired in the closing stages. Dyer introduced Ahmed Abdulla for Montano in the final quarter of an hour but the 17-year-old striker also found it difficult to find space against some dogged defending.
Although the second goal was not to come, the final whistle ensured another win to sign off an impressive home campaign with two away fixtures left before the season end. Dyer's team travel to West Bromwich Albion next Tuesday before a trip to Portsmouth in a fortnight. Level on points with Fulham, who also have two fixtures remaining, there is every chance of a second-placed finish behind likely champions Aston Villa.
West Ham United: Peter Kurucz, Oliver Lee, Bondz N'Gala, Matthew Fry, Georg Grasser, Anthony Edgar, Conor Okus, Cristian Montano (Ahmed Abdulla 75), Daniel Kearns, Zavon Hines, Balint Bajner
Subs not used: Peter Loveday, Callum McNaughton, Sergio Sanchez, NIck Barrett
Stoke City: Tom Harrison, Alex Hedley (Salif Diao 69), Richard Vauls, Andy Nicholls, Nathaniel Wedderburn, Ryan Connor, Tom Urwin, Danny Stockhall, Darren Brunt, Louis Moult, Adam Vickers (Warwick Alexander 75)
Subs not used: Dave Parton, Cameron Mitchell