STOKE CITY earned a deserved point after an entertaining Barclays Premier League encounter against West Ham United at Upton Park on Monday night finished 1-1.
Jonathan Walters had fired the Potters into a merited first-half lead, but the home team responded well after the break and secured a draw thanks to Joey O’Brien’s poached effort.
City had to withstand some heavy pressure from the Hammers in the second period, but stood firm to grab a result that consolidated their 14th position in the top flight.
The opening 45 minutes saw City play some intuitive attacking football that resulted in a deserved half-time advantage, but a first away win of the season wasn’t to be.
Tony Pulis was able to name an unchanged team for the televised match after Glenn Whelan was passed fit following treatment on a hamstring injury aggravated on international duty.
The Irish international continued in central midfield alongside Steven Nzonzi and Charlie Adam, while Matthew Etherington started against the club where he spent five-and-a-half years.
For West Ham, Matt Jarvis and Yossi Benayoun both missed out, with Modibo Maiga and Gary O’Neil deputising.
City went into the match hunting their first Premier League win on the road since January, but West Ham started the brighter as Maiga beat Cameron on the left before testing the Potters’ back-line with a low cross.
On three minutes, Peter Crouch won his first header of the evening, nodding down Ryan Shawcross’ cross-field ball to Adam, but the Scottish midfielder couldn’t control his volley and it looped well over the bar.
Stoke continued to look competitive in the early stages, and after Nzonzi won an aerial battle in the area and found Crouch, the towering forward managed to force a save out of Jussi Jaaskelainen.
The Potters were growing in confidence and a slick move involving Nzonzi, Whelan and Adam forced a corner, and from that City got their opening goal on 13 minutes.
Whelan’s low delivery deceived the Hammers defence and found the unmarked Jonathan Walters, who fired into the net first-time, leaving Jaaskelainen with no chance.
The strike was Walters’ first from open play in the Premier League this season, but betrayed the confidence of a player who’d scored many more after displaying assured technique to dispatch the finish after a clever run across the six-yard box.
West Ham rallied with a spell of their own pressure, but City were repelling the succession of long-balls aimed at Andy Carroll and the wide threat of Maiga and Mohamed Diame confidently.
Diame and Nolan combined to make a path through City’s back-line on 25 minutes, though the former lost his balance and Begovic was there to collect the ball at his feet.
The Upton Park crowd were roused moments later when talisman Kevin Nolan received a pass 10 yards from goal, but once against City’s Bosnian stopper was alert to the danger and turned the shot away.
City were forced into a chance on 32 minutes as Andy Wilkinson, deputising for Marc Wilson at left-back, limped off to be replaced by Ryan Shotton.
Nzonzi went as close as you can on 38 minutes as he collected a square ball from Adam and fired a rasping drive from just outside the area that cannoned down off the crossbar, narrowly landing in front of the goal-line.
Pulis’ men certainly looked confident going forward, and even though West Ham had a decent spell of possession just before half-time, they failed to directly threaten Begovic’s goal.
Barely seconds after the break, West Ham had a golden chance to equalise when George McCartney was played in on the left-hand side, and his cross was perfect for Nolan but the midfielder somehow proceeded to fluff his lines.
They had better luck a couple of minutes later though as they grabbed the leveller – Diame battled for possession in the area before playing in O’Neil on the right, and his low cross was smashed home by the advancing O’Brien - although replays showed he could have been offside.
Stoke held firm under the pressure, and almost caught United out on the counter attack as Adam played in Etherington, whose low cross was blocked behind for a corner.
West Ham continued in the ascendency, though, and when Maiga drove the ball across a crowded penalty area, Stoke were fortunate that Whelan was on the line to clear the threat.
In a wholly incomparable atmosphere to the first-half, Upton Park was rocking, and the Hammers players were responding by winning the 50/50 challenges and keeping the ball more efficiently.
Pulis’ tried to change things by introducing Honduran midfielder Wilson Palacios in the 62nd minute in place of Whelan, but the Hammers went close to edging in front when O’Neil curled wide after a well-worked corner.
On 71 minutes, Walters popped up on the left-wing after being found by Palacios, although Jaaskelainen will have been relieved to see the ball sail wide of his post after his run across the area.
The game evened out in the latter stages as both sides became wary that a point, especially from Stoke’s point of view, wouldn’t be a disastrous result.
In the 90th minute, Winston Reid had a sight at goal as substitute Carlton Cole flicked on Matt Taylor’s corner, but his weak header was straight at Begovic.
That proved to be the last opening of the match as the spoils were shared.