Fan blogger Joe Difford reflects on Saturday's draw with Stoke City...
With Dimitri Payet, Diafra Sakho, Winston Reid, Manuel Lanzini and Victor Moses all out injured, you’d be forgiven for wondering where the chances would come from before Saturday’s game.
But after registering 24 shots, with 10 being on target, it is clear that creating chances wasn’t the issue, but a combination of luck, misjudgement and Jack Butland being in the form of his life, forced Slaven Bilic and Co. to settle for a point.
Within just three minutes, Michail Antonio was shining on his full debut for the club, forcing the future England No1 into two saves.
We were forcing the Potters back into their own half, but their new brand of fast-paced, attacking football was proving an issue, and almost lead to a goal early on. Ibrahim Afellay did excellently out wide, before playing it to Marco van Ginkel, who was drafted in to replace the injured Xherdan Shaqiri, but the Chelsea loanee completely scuffed his shot, and it bobbled wide from inside the six-yard box.
Bojan and Marko Arnautovic, who were both phenomenal against Manchester City last week, struggled to find that form again, and instead were kept relatively quiet by the excellent Angelo Ogbonna and James Collins.
Andy Carroll was tasked with leading the line, but came up against a resilient Ryan Shawcross, who palmed him off in the face early in the first half, giving him a sign of things to come.
Carroll was limited to only four touches in the penalty area over 90 minutes, the same number as Mame Diouf, who only came on with half an hour to go. This might seem like a poor statistic for the former England striker, but credit has to go to the Stoke back four who kept him quiet for most of the game.
Mauro Zarate has really upped his game since the injury crisis began, and he was full of energy on Saturday, constantly twisting and turning and running at the Stoke defence, causing all sorts of problems for the back line.
The best chances, bar van Ginkel’s miss-kick in the first half, fell to Diouf and Cheikhou Kouyate late on.
Diouf should have netted twice, having broken through one-on-one with Adrian on both occasions, but the Spanish keeper was alert and made two excellent stops, leaving the Stoke striker visibly frustrated.
We could have won the game with literally the last kick, or should I say head of the game. The ball was put into the box and kept alive by Andy Carroll, but Kouyate’s powerful header was cleared off the line by about three Stoke men.
A draw against a side who have just beaten Manchester City, with five first team players out injured, is not a bad result at all.
Yes, we are now winless in six, but we are also unbeaten in our last six home games, so even with draws, the Boleyn Ground is once against becoming a place where it is difficult to take all three points. Stoke have now kept an amazing seven clean sheets in their last nine Premier League games, and haven’t conceded a single goal whilst Shawcross has been on the pitch, so not scoring was to be expected.
Next up for the Hammers is a trip to managerless Swansea, where three points could and should be picked up. We go again.
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