Diego Tristan's dramatic 88th-minute winner handed West Ham United a second valuable Premier League win in the space of three days.
The Spaniard's goal clinched a 2-1 win over a Stoke City side reduced to ten men following the sending off of striker Ricardo Fuller for appearing to strike Potters' captain Andy Griffin.
The visitors had taken a fifth-minute lead through Abdoulaye Faye's bullet header, only for Carlton Cole's 51st-minute equaliser and Fuller's red card - which occurred as Stoke prepared to kick-off after conceding - to hand the initiative to Gianfranco Zola's men. When Tristan deflected Cole's shot past Thomas Sorensen, the Hammers were guaranteed a happy Christmas that has seen them bag six points and rise into the top ten of the Premier League table.
Zola had made four changes to the side that won so impressively 4-1 at Portsmouth on Boxing Day. Craig Bellamy, scorer of two goals in that game, was suspended so David Di Michele came into attack. Julien Faubert started in place of skipper Lucas Neill, who was ruled out through the twisted ankle he sustained on the south coast. Luis Boa Morte replaced virus victim Mark Noble and James Collins was named in the starting XI in place of Calum Davenport.
Stoke nearly took the lead when Fuller's deflected shot went narrowly wide. However, they did not have to wait long to get it right as from the resulting corner they took an early lead. Danny Pugh floated it in and Faye lost his marker to power a low header past Robert Green.
United had a chance to restore parity almost instantly as Jack Collison's cross with the outside of the boot was prodded wide by Cole. The home side continued to press and after several promising attacks won a corner when Valon Behrami's cross was headed behind by Andy Griffin. Boa Morte took the kick and his inswinging ball was headed agonisingly wide by the stand-in captain Matthew Upson
Faubert then became the first of four Hammers players booked in the opening period for a late tackle and was soon followed by Cole after a collision with Seyi Olofinjana.
Boa Morte had begun the game as he had left off at Portsmouth, showing some neat touches from centre midfield. The one small blot on his copy book was a booking picked up for a tackle on Glenn Whelan just after the half-hour mark.
Di Michele's trickery then set up Cole for a header that went just over, before the Italian joined his team-mates in referee Michael Jones' notebook. The home pressure was relentless and eight minutes before the break Boa Morte fed Herita Ilunga. His fine cut back somehow eluded everyone in the crowded area before Scott Parker's effort moments later was cleared off the line by Danny Higginbotham. Olonfinjana then became the fifth player to be carded for a foul on Boa Morte as the visitors went in a goal up at the break.
West Ham equalised six minutes after the restart. Cole, who had led the line tirelessly in the first half, collected the ball with his back to goal just inside the Stoke penalty area. After holding off Andy Griffin, his quick turn and shot flew into the far corner of the net to the audible relief of the vociferous home crowd.
Stoke manager Tony Pulis responded by bringing on Vincent Pericard for Danny Pugh, but unfortunately for him, one of his players reacted in an entirely different fashion as Fuller was shown a straight red card for appearing to strike Griffin. The Stoke captain was then taken off a short while later for Andrew Davies, while Higginbotham was booked for time-wasting.
The Hammers thought they had taken the lead midway through the half. Cole was tackled but the ball fell kindly to Boa Morte, whose goalbound effort was thwarted only by a combination of a Thomas Sorensen save and a Higginbotham goal-line clearance.
Zola sent on Tristan and Hayden Mullins for Parker and Collison in search of the winner but it was his goalkeeper that had to be alert next to hold Rory Delap's stinging 30-yard drive.
The substitution did pay off, though, and with just two minutes left on the clock Di Michele fed Cole and his shot deflected in off Tristan for the striker's first goal for the club. Jonathan Spector was then introduced for the last few minutes as Zola shored up his defence, and the Hammers duly held on to secure another vital victory and send the vast majority of the 34,477 crowd - the largest home attendance for a game against Stoke since the 1971/72 League Cup semi-final second leg.
West Ham will now enter the New Year in confident mood ahead of Saturday's FA Cup third-round visit of Barnsley.