STOKE CITY elevated themselves up into the top-half of the Premier League on Saturday afternoon after recording a Premier League double over West Ham United in scintillating style at the Britannia Stadium.
Marko Arnautovic’s first home goal sandwich in-between a Peter Odemwingie brace was enough to record all three points for the hosts, after Andy Carroll had headed the visitors ahead after only five minutes.
Odemwingie unknowingly diverted Peter Crouch’s acrobatic effort into the back of the net to level matters late in the first half, before Arnautovic capped off a wonderful display with a well taken finish twenty minutes from time.
Nigerian international Odemwingie emphatically thumped home a third soon after to record a resounding victory for Mark Hughes’ side, who could have added further goals to their tally with Arnoutovic, Ireland and Nzonzi all going close.
Prior to kick-off Hughes made just the one change to his starting eleven with Ireland coming in to the eleven for his first league start of 2014, at the expense of the suspended Jonathan Walters.
The afternoon couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start for the home side as the visitors drew first blood just five minutes in through England international Carroll.
The powerful front-man leaped high above Crouch to meet Mark Nobles’ deep centre and headed the ball beyond the stranded Asmir Begovic, who had uncharacteristically misjudged the midfielder’s long-punt forward.
Agony should have turned to ecstasy just 60 seconds later however, as a fast-flowing move forward culminated in Steven Nzonzi teeing Stephen Ireland up inside the penalty box, whose effort brought the best out of Hammers ‘keeper Adrian.
Hughes was dealt a blow midway through the half when full-back Erik Pieters was forced to depart the action prematurely, having seemingly suffered a thigh strain. Marc Muniesa was brought on as his replacement.
That stoppage didn’t deter the hosts though, as another superb passage of play, instigated by a wonderful piece of brilliance from Odemwingie, almost resulted in Ireland being freed through on goal.
Soon after, a dangerous Marko Arnautovic set-piece saw Marc Wilson flick a shot at goal, only for Odemwingie to inadvertently block his effort.
Despite the early setback Mark Hughes’ side continued to dictate the tempo of the game, and remained patient in their efforts to find an avenue through a dogged and determined United backline.
A deserved crucial breakthrough eventually came just after the half-hour mark when move Stoke’s dominance was finally rewarded through Odemwingie, who unknowingly deflected Crouch’s acrobatic effort home, after the England ace had initially hit the bar.
Carroll, who caused the City rear-guard all sorts of problems during the opening half, fired an audacious 35-yard effort inches over Begovic’s bar in a rare Hammers attack with five minutes of the opening 45 remaining.
It was the home side though who should have taken the lead into the interval when Ireland was fed through on goal by Arnautovic, but wasn’t able to beat Adrian, who denied him with another superb save at his near post.
The start of the second period heralded another bright showing from Sam Allardyce’s side, who arguably should have restored their advantage when Nolan was presented with a clear sight at goal, but was only able to head into the side-netting.
At the other end an innovative flick forward from the lively Arnautovic almost saw Crouch add to his season’s tally, before the more advanced Steven Nzonzi lashed an effort just wide of target from 30-yards.
There was further drama in the game on the hour mark when Begovic’s punch clear fell straight into the path of Carroll, he chipped the Bosnian stopper, leaving Nolan with the simplest task of tapping the ball into an unguarded net. Thankfully for the hosts, the linesman rightly raised his flag for offside.
Just as the visitors appeared to be having a more telling say on the game, a series of slick passes between, Ireland, Geoff Cameron and Arnautovic resulted in the latter bursting through on goal and firing the ball beyond Adrian and into the bottom corner of the net.
The Austrian aces strike injected even more tenacity and quality into the hosts play, and a third goal of the afternoon wasn’t too long in waiting as Odemwingie latched on to a clever ball from Ireland and thunderously launched the ball into the roof of the net to round off a clinical counter-attack in sensational style.
Allardyce responded by thrusting Joe Cole and Pablo Armero on to the field in a bid to salvage his side some pride, however, all of the further chances that did come along during the remaining 15 minutes all fell Stoke’s way.
Arnautovic hammered a long range strike towards goal which Adrian did well top palm away, before Crouch went equally as close seconds later with the Spanish stopper again having to be at his best to beat away the forward’s effort.
There was even time for Nzonzi to test his luck from range, but yet again the impressive Adrian was on hand to block his effort, and then pounce on the ball ahead of Ireland, who would undoubtedly have made it four in stoppage time.