West Ham 0-1 Stoke City: Match Report

The marvellous thing about football is the knowledge that however turgid and torpid a match is, at any given moment, it is no more than one moment of brilliance from being entirely transformed.

West Ham United and Stoke City made us wait. At frequent intervals they made us yawn, too. But a curling 22-yard free-kick makes everything better. Step forward, substitute Jermaine Pennant.

Stoke were marginally the better side and just about deserved the win. Their evolution under new manager Mark Hughes is taking place slowly, but perceptibly. They tried to keep the ball on the ground in midfield. They even dominated possession, something they hardly ever used to do under Tony Pulis.

The less said about the first 80 minutes of this match, the better. It was uninspired, riddled with errors and painfully lacking in ambition. Mainly though, it was slow. Oh gosh, it was slow. At one stage Charlie Adam counter-attacked, carrying the ball out of midfield, before languidly slowing to a walk while he considered his options.

Adam, a player who would be perfectly content to play the game from a leather throne if he thought he could get away with it, pinging his diagonal Hollywood balls whilst leaning on his gem-encrusted mace for support, epitomised a match full of nice touches but precious little pace.

Neither manager was able to do much to lift the glacial pace of play. Sam Allardyce swapped his wingers around, the managerial equivalent of switching around the batteries in a remote control. West Ham, with only the out-of-touch Modibo Maiga up front, were poor. They sorely need another striker before the transfer deadline.

Stoke were dominating the midfield battle, but they too had little instinct for goal. Despite replacing Peter Crouch in the starting line-up after a midweek hat-trick, Kenwyne Jones does not really suit StokeÔÇÖs new style. Under Tony Pulis he was the ideal man to throw into the penalty area late on, like a wardrobe being thrown down a hill. For Stoke 2.0, however, the suspicion remains that his touch is not quite good enough.

West Ham brought on Ravel Morrison. Stoke brought on Pennant and Glenn Whelan. Ultimately, it was the less exciting substitution that proved more effective. With 81 minutes gone, Mohamed Diame fouled Glenn Whelan on the edge of the area, Pennant stepped up and buried the free-kick to the goalkeeperÔÇÖs left. A sublime strike. Take a bow, football. You did it again.