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23:43 27th March 2010

West Ham United 0 Stoke City 1

AN INDIVIDUAL piece of brilliance from substitute Ricardo Fuller was enough to secure the Potters a third win on the road of the season… and inflict a sixth successive defeat on West Ham in the process.

The Jamaican international had barely been on the pitch two minutes by the time he scintillatingly beat two men and rifled the ball beyond England international Rob Green with little over twenty minutes of the game remaining.

Prior to his introduction chances had been few and far between for both sides, with Egyptian Mido going closest for the Hammers, whilst Liam Lawrence had spurned the visitors best chance early on after blazing over from 12-yards.

The Potters had to soak up a late onslaught from the desperate hosts, but they managed to hold on for all three points and elevate themselves up to tenth place in the league table; moving to within one point of the magic '40-point target'.

Ahead of the game, Tony Pulis' made two changes to the starting line-up from the side which slipped to a 2-1 defeat against Tottenham Hotspur at the Britannia Stadium last weekend.

The suspended Dean Whitehead was replaced by Lawrence, whilst Fuller, who had suffered a minor bout of food poisoning overnight, was replaced up front by Mamady Sidibe.

Hammers boss Gianfranco Zola responded to his side's disappointing performance against Wolves in midweek by making five changes to his squad, with on loan Middlesbrough man Mido and influential midfielder Kieron Dyer two of the players brought in, as Zola looked to answer Chairman David Sullivan's pre-match battlecry.

The pair were almost cursing their luck early on tough as Lawrence forged a clear sight of goal after handling the ball, however after referee Andre Marriner surprisingly waved play on, the Ireland international fired well over, when he really should have at least tested England stopper Robert Green.

Skipper Abdoulaye Faye then went close after latching onto Kitson's flick on, whilst two minutes later he again almost broke the deadlock, but his header from eight-yards drifted just wide of Green's right hand post.

His afternoon was brought to an abrupt end minutes later though after pulling up with a knee injury; meaning Pulis was forced into an early defensive re-shuffle as he welcomed Andy Wilkinson into the right back slot, with German international Robert Huth moving into the middle alongside Danny Higginbotham.

The latter soon had to come to City's rescue to thwart Carlton Cole, before the England man almost capitalised on a poor back pass from Huth, only for Higginbotham to spare his blushes moments later with a superb last ditch challenge.

Cole, who looked the hosts major threat then brought the best out of Thomas Sorensen from 25-yards, before Mido agonisingly slipped over just as he looked ready to tap home the rebound.

Right on the stroke of half time the Potters almost took the lead as Kitson neatly controlled and turned after former Hammer Matthew Etherington classily picked him out, however, his goalbound strike was superbly blocked by the out-stretched leg of Hugo Da Costa.

During the break Zola opted to change things around as he brought on the unpredictable Alessandro Diamanti at the expense of Dyer, with Pulis deciding against making any changes. That was until Kitson pulled up injured just 60 seconds into the second half.

The former Reading man, who was chasing the ball, suddenly pulled up holding the back of his knee, and Pulis responded instantly by bringing on Turkey captain Tuncay. He wasted no time in stamping his mark on the game as a sublime back-heel released Etherington down the left flank, before he laid it back to him, only for Upson to block his effort.

Denmark international Sorensen was then on hand to deny Cole from range, before he calmly watched Mark Noble fire an audacious volley just wide of his post. The hosts continued to push forward in search of the game's opening goal, and Pulis responded by bringing on the ace in his pack, Fuller.

He was at the centre of attention last season at Upton Park, and he soon ensured he would again be the name on everyone's lips as he produced arguably City's goal of the season. Having superbly controlled a long punt forward, he swivelled and left Behrami for dead, before doing exactly the same to Upson and then rounding it off by smashing the ball into the back of the net from six-yards.

The goal inevitably breathed a new lease of life into City, with Andy Wilkinson seeing an effort deflected just wide, whilst Fuller fired wide after using his sheer strength and pace to get the better of former Real Madrid man Julien Faubert.

Green then saved superbly from Tuncay with 12 minutes remaining, before Huth had a header ruled out after Lawrence's out-swinging corner had appeared to have drifted out of play.

The supporters were becoming infuriated as the hosts failed to create any clear-cut opportunities and Zola responded by thrusting on both Benni McCarthy and Brazilian Ilan in one last effort to pick up a point.

McCarthy almost broke free in the final stages only for Higginbotham to clear his lines, before Diamanti wasted a free-kick from 20-yards right at the death by firing straight into City's six-man wall.

    Data provided by Press Association


    The Potters played out four replays to finally beat Bury in the FA Cup in 1955