Zamora Stokes Hammers Play Off Hopes

HAMMERS have won three vital points at the Britannia Stadium, substitute Bobby Zamora's goal earning West Ham United a precious 1-0 win over Stoke City.

It was hard-work for Alan Pardew's men, though, the vital winner coming 78 minutes into a game too tight to call.

Alan Pardew made just one change to the side that drew against Millwall, Hayden Mullins coming in for the injured Mark Noble. Jimmy Walker continued in goal, while Teddy Sheringham started his seventh game in a row.

Stoke City were unchanged from their last outing, a 2-0 win over Plymouth, and got off to a flying start when Kenwyne Jones muscled out Elliott Ward and tested Walker with a stinging low drive.

West Ham responded by streaming down the other end of the pitch and Marlon Harewood squandered a great chance from Shaun Newton's cross, blasting high over the bar from six yards out when he was in the centre of goal with only 'keeper Steve Simonsen to beat.

Hammers were enjoying some promising raids down the Stoke flanks, but it was the home side who had the next noteworthy effort, Darel Russel shooting well wide after the powerful presence of Jones had unsettled the West Ham defence.

After its frantic the start, the game settled into a more sedate rhythm midway through the first-half. Mullins' two chances left a lot to be desired, blazing high over the bar from 20 yards out, before a left-foot swipe bobbled harmlessly wide on 25 minutes.

Stoke were fairing far better at the other end, and Hammers were grateful to two fine interventions from Ward to keep the home side out. First the big defender threw himself in the way of a vicious shot, before preventing Noel-Williams' cross from reaching Jones.

Two minutes later defender Clint Hill went close with a back-header from Dave Brammer's cross that flew just wide, before Shaun Newton found himself in a great position inside the Stoke box but completely missed his kick.

Hammers finally forced Simonsen into a save on 33 minutes, and it was Anton Ferdinand with the shot. He received the ball from Matty Etherington's break away and hit an angled drive that Simonsen stopped safely down low to his right.

The defender had another chance soon after, his header comfortably saved by Simonsen, but not before Ward had thrown himself in the way of another blistering Jones drive.

On 38 minutes Harewood forced Simonsen into the save of the half with a stinging low drive from just outside the area that the goalkeeper did really well to tip around the post.

Noel-Williams should have done better with a header from Chris Greenacre's cross five minutes from the interval, before Walker fumbled a cross allowing Clive Clarke to strike towards the unguarded goal. But it was Ward again in the way, clearing to safety and preserving the deadlock as the team's went in for the interval at 0-0. 

HT: 0-0

The second-half began with Stoke again going close. Darel Russell clipped in a cross, Noel-Williams flicked on and strike partner Jones just failed to make contact at the far post.

Moments later Russell shot over the bar from the edge of the area after the Hammers defence had scrambled away Lewis Buxton's cross.

West Ham had to wait almost 15 minutes for their first opening of the half, Shaun Newton cutting a swath through the Stoke defence, but his cross-shot was blocked out by Simonsen at his near post.

Clint Hill came within a whisker of diverting Brammer's cut-back home, as Stoke looked to capitalise on a promising period of pressure.

On 72 minutes a raking ball from Russell found Noel-Williams marauding forward on the right and he fired in a shot that cannoned off the outside of Walker's near post.

With quarter of an hour left Pards made a double substitution in attempt to unlock the stubborn Stoke defence, Bobby Zamora and Carl Fletcher coming on for Tomas Repka and Hayden Mullins.

Zamora's presence immediately added an extra gear to the Hammers attack. His first involvement was a jinking run across the edge of the box and a curling shot that whistled just over the bar.

His second was to score the goal that put West Ham United right back into the Play-off race. It was Harewood who did the damage, brushing past Hill and crossing low to the back post where Zamora was waiting to tap in his seventh and most important goal of the season.

The goal seemed to deflate Stoke's spirit, as Hammers began to knock the ball around as though a weight had been lifted from their shoulders.

But with less than a minute left Alan Pardew's world looked to have caved in when Lewis Neal fired home from 12 yards out. But the effort was promptly ruled out for an offside flag, Hammers breathing a heavy sigh of relief.

The final-whistle was given a rapturous reception by West Ham's travelling faithful, yet again magnificent in their support. 
It was West Ham's seventh game undefeated, their fourth win in five. But more importantly with Reading not playing it closed the gap between West Ham and the Royals to one point, with three crucial games remaining.