SUPER SUB Jermaine Pennant fired Stoke City to their third victory in eight days and their first away day success of the 2013/14 Premier League season.
He bagged the only goal of the game against West Ham at the Boleyn Ground to earn Mark Hughes’ men a win they richly deserved.
It had looked like being an afternoon of frustration for the Potters and their travelling support before Pennant made his stunning contribution eight minutes from time.
The winger had only been on the pitch for six minutes when he stepped up to curl home a free-kick, sparking wild celebrations among the 1,300 fans who made the journey to the capital.
Fellow sub Glenn Whelan was sent crashing by Mohamed Diame on the edge of the area and Pennant, who had looked to be on his way out of the Club at the end of last season when his contract expired before Hughes offered him a new one-year deal, did the rest in sublime fashion.
Hughes made seven changes to his starting line-up but rewarded Kenwyne Jones for his midweek hat-trick heroics by preferring him to Peter Crouch.
Asmir Begovic, Erik Pieters, Geoff Cameron, Jon Walters, Steve Nzonzi, Matthew Etherington and Marc Wilson returned to the starting line-up.
Thomas Sorensen, Marc Muniesa, Whelan and Pennant dropped to the bench but there was no place in the matchday 18 for Andy Wilkinson, Brek Shea and Wilson Palacios.
Jones squandered a golden opportunity to give the Potters the perfect start front of their travelling fans in East London.
Pieters’ pin-point pass picked out the Trinidad & Tobago international, who span away from James Collins but he failed to test Jussi Jaaskelainen with a shot from just outside the area.
Jaaskelainen made a regulation save to keep out Jones’ header from a Steven Nzonzi cross in the 12th minute as Stoke looked to capitalise on a bright start to the game.
A clumsy challenge by Mark Noble on Charlie Adam earned Stoke a free-kick 25 yards out but Adam’s effort was again comfortable enough for the Hammers’ keeper to deal with.
Jaaskelainen, however, had to be at his best midway through the first half to deny the visitors the breakthrough goal their dynamic performance deserved. The 38-year-old Finn rolled back the years to parry Marc Wilson’s long-range volley and then somehow managed to deny Jon Walters from the rebound.
Nzonzi capitalised on sloppy play from Noble as he disposed the Hammers’ midfielder but the Frenchman failed to cap his powerful run from the halfway line with an on-target shot from 20 yards out.
West Ham also wasted a gilt-edged opportunity 11 minutes before the break as Modibo Maiga headed wide of the target from close range after skipper Kevin Nolan and Matt Jarvis had combined down the right flank.
Guy Demel tried to bring a subdued home crowd to life in the early stages of the second half with a mazy run but he failed to either test Asmir Begovic – or, in fact, hit the target – with his shot from the edge of the area.
Winston Reid failed also to lift the mood as he headed Noble’s diagonal free-kick over the bar from six yards out.
West Ham’s inability to retain possession almost cost them dearly again on the hour mark as Nzonzi robbed Nolan midway inside the host’s half. Nzonzi, who also had Walters and Jones in support, fed Etherington but his shot was blocked by Collins as he spared his captain’s blushes.
Nzonzi fired wide from distance midway through the second half as Hughes’ men continued to strive for the breakthrough goal.
Hughes made a double substitution 14 minutes from time with Whelan and Pennant replacing Adam and former Hammer Etherington respectively.
Whelan wasted little time in making an impact as he was brought down on the edge of the area by Diame, giving Pennant the opportunity to step up and curl a delicious free-kick beyond the reach of Jaaskelainen and settle the contest.