Stoke go Potty for Wembley
Stoke ended their 39-year wait for a trip to Wembley with a hard-fought FA Cup win against West Ham.
Last Updated: 13/03/11 4:42pm
Stoke ended their 39-year wait for a trip to Wembley with a hard-fought FA Cup quarter-final win against West Ham.
Defender Danny Higginbotham was the unlikely hero for the Potteries side after sealing a 2-1 success with the first FA Cup goal of his career.
A feisty action-packed affair ended with Tony Pulis' side becoming the third team to reach the last four of the famous competition and leaving the Hammers to concentrate solely on avoiding relegation from the Premier League.
Robert Huth handed Stoke an early lead from a familiar Rory Delap long throw routine before Frederic Piquionne controversially equalised before the break.
Matthew Etherington spurned a golden chance to put Stoke back in front by missing an early second-half penalty but was let off the hook when Higginbotham smashed home a 63rd minute free-kick.
It was enough for Stoke to book a Wembley appearance for the first time since winning the League Cup in 1972 - although they survived a late scare when Matthew Upson's thumping header cannoned back off the crossbar.
As usual there was plenty of noise emanating from the vociferous Stoke fans as the game kicked off and their team responded by flying out the blocks.
Playing their usual direct game, the home side quickly moved the ball forward as they utilised the pace and trickery of wingers Jermaine Pennant and Etherington in a bid to expose West Ham's defensive frailties early on.
The pair combined as early as the second minute when Pennant, given far too much space by Wayne Bridge, whipped in a right-wing cross which was met by the on-rushing Etherington whose six-yard header was brilliantly pushed away by Robert Green.
West Ham would have been expecting an early onslaught from their hosts - and it was exactly what they got.
Another Stoke chance went begging moments later when Huth headed wide Delap's first long throw of the afternoon.
But the warning was not heeded by the Hammers as the home side took a deserved lead in almost identical fashion on 12 minutes.
Shoddy defending has characterised West Ham's season and their backline were left looking at each other once again when an unmarked Huth found the space to power home another Delap throw.
Despite having won their previous three games, West Ham started the game nervously as Stoke's abrasive manner put them on the back foot.
But they clawed their way back into the tie with the help of Piquionne's controversial half-hour equaliser.
Thomas Hitzlsperger delightfully took out Stoke's backline with a sumptuous chipped pass which Piquionne controlled with his arm before bundling the ball home.
Stoke were incandescent with rage and Tony Pulis was still shaking his head in disbelief as he walked down the tunnel at half-time with opposite number Avram Grant.
A chorus of boos greeted referee Mike Jones as he returned for the second half but the official soon had the home fans off his back by handing a soft penalty to Stoke seconds after the restart.
Etherington went tumbling under the slightest contact from Scott Parker but could not punish his former club further as Green expertly dived the full length to his left to keep the ball out.
West Ham were boosted by Green's save but were unable to carve out any decent chances as Stoke continued their aerial bombardment at the other end.
And it was the hosts who went ahead for the second time in the 63rd minute following another controversial handball decision by referee Jones.
Livid Hammers captain Parker insisted Carlton Cole was protecting his face from Pennant's fierce free-kick on the edge of his penalty area.
But it did not wash with the official who awarded another set-piece which Higginbotham promptly thundered home despite Green getting a hand to the ball.
West Ham continued to stick to their passing principles and a slick move ended in substitute Robbie Keane, returning from a calf injury, prodding James Tomkins' low right-wing cross just wide.
Time was running out for West Ham but their 4,000 travelling fans must have thought they were set to earn a replay before seeing Upson's 86th minute header rattle the home crossbar.But it was not meant to be as Stoke held on for a famous victory.
|Stoke City||Team Statistics||West Ham United|
|1||1st Half Goals||1|
|6||Shots on Target||5|
|9||Shots off Target||5|