Tristan smashes Potters

An inch-perfect free-kick from Diego Tristan earned West Ham United a superb 1-0 win at Stoke City, sending the Hammers back into seventh place in the Premier League table and re-igniting the club's challenge for a place in next season's UEFA Europa League.

Gianfranco Zola's men became just the fourth away team to leave the Britannia Stadium with three points this season, notching up their fifth consecutive victory in the Potteries. West Ham's last defeat at Stoke came back in October 1983.

The match-defining moment came on 33 minutes, when the Spaniard curled a wicked, curling shot into Thomas Sorensen's top right-hand corner after David Di Michele had been brought down by Potters' defender Abdoulaye Faye.

The goal marked Tristan's third for the club and the second time he had scored the winner against Stoke. The 33-year-old also netted in the 2-1 Premier League victory at the Boleyn Ground on 28 December.

Manager Gianfranco Zola made one enforced change to the side that lost 1-0 at home to Chelsea a week ago, replacing muscle strain victim Kieron Dyer with Radoslav Kovac, who made his first start since the 1-1 draw at Blackburn Rovers on 21 March.

Wales midfielder Jack Collison was named among the substitutes after recovering from the dislocated kneecap he suffered at Wigan Athletic on 4 March. Striker Zavon Hines, 20, was also on the bench in place of the ill Savio.

Stoke boss Tony Pulis named former Hammers winger Matthew Etherington in his starting eleven, while ex-West Ham loanee Henri Camara was among the substitutes.

A lively first half was played in a cauldron-like atmosphere at the Britannia, with both teams seeing goals chalked off for infringements within the opening 13 minutes.

Stoke were the first to be denied by referee Peter Walton's whistle when Ricardo Fuller - sent-off in the reverse fixture four months ago - was penalised for a foul on Robert Green as he challenged the goalkeeper for a trademark Rory Delap long throw.

Less than two minutes later, Di Michele was also denied as Walton spotted a handball by strike partner Tristan in the build-up to the Italian's 'goal'.

While Stoke's tireless pressing and aerial bombardment meant West Ham could never be 100 per cent comfortable, it was the visitors who played the better football and created the better chances throughout.

Before half-time, Tristan saw two efforts blocked by Ryan Shawcross. Then, just a minute after the striker's memorable opener, Di Michele blazed a searing shot narrowly over the crossbar from Junior Stanislas' neat backheel.

At the other end, Shawcross flashed a header well wide from another Delap throw-in, while Faye should have hit the target from Liam Lawrence's right-wing corner. Green then showed admirable bravery to dive head-first at Fuller's feet to deny the Jamaican a shooting chance.

The half closed with Boa Morte and Delap being booked after the Irishman took exception to a sliding challenge from the Portuguese winger. Seconds later, Lawrence also saw yellow after Walton adjudged him to have dived over a Kovac challenge on the edge of the West Ham penalty area.

The second half was less incident-packed than the first, but did begin with Tristan making an audacious attempt to double his tally by shooting straight from the kick-off, only for the ball to trickle through to Sorensen.

West Ham continued to play the neater football and could have gone further ahead on 68 minutes, only for Stanislas to blaze wastefully over the top following a fine burst down the right flank by captain Lucas Neill.

Pulis shuffled his pack with 17 minutes remaining, sending on Camara and Seyi Olofinjana for James Beattie and Pugh respectively. The substitutions had an almost immediate impact as Noble did superbly to head Faye's header from Lawrence's far-post corner out from under his own crossbar.

Stoke continued their airborne attack in the closing stages courtesy of a host of Delap throw-ins and Lawrence corners, but the Hammers' defence held firm. Green made another courageous intervention with eleven minutes remaining, throwing himself at the feet of former team-mate Camara to block the Senegal striker's low shot.

Neill was booked for taking too long over a throw-in before Collison made a welcome return to action, replacing Boa Morte with eight minutes to go. Walter Lopez and Freddie Sears also saw action late on, replacing Noble and Di Michele on 87 and 89 minutes respectively, while Pulis added to his aerial armoury by sending on Ibrahima Sonko for Andy Wilkinson with three minutes remaining.

Tristan nearly wrapped the game up in the second minute of added-time, but could only lift his shot over Sorensen and agonisingly wide of the far post. Fuller then did likewise, firing well over from just eight yards.

With Fulham losing at Chelsea, West Ham climbed back into seventh place in the standings with three matches remaining, starting with next Saturday's visit of Liverpool to east London.