Stoke edge past Hammers

2011-03-13 18:27
Tony Higginbotham (AP Photo)

Stoke - Danny Higginbotham fired Stoke into their first FA Cup semi-final since 1972 as the defender's strike clinched a 2-1 win over West Ham in the quarterfinals on Sunday.

Higginbotham's 63rd minute free kick at the Britannia Stadium was enough to secure the Potters their first win in four attempts against West Ham this term after Frederic Piquionne had cancelled out Robert Huth's opener

Stoke's first - and only - major piece of silverware came 39 years ago when they beat Chelsea at Wembley in the League Cup and they reach the FA Cup semi-finals that season as well.

Now Tony Pulis's side can look forward to a return to the English national stadium in the last four.

In contrast, West Ham, who lost in the League Cup semi-finals against Birmingham, have just a relegation battle to occupy them for the rest of the season.

It was an absorbing encounter of unrelenting drama and both sides were left to rue the inconsistencies of officials, with referee Mike Jones likely to face scrutiny for a poor performance.

Stoke could have been ahead after just two minutes through former Hammer Matthew Etherington but Robert Green produced a stunning save to keep out his header.

But the hosts' early pressure eventually told thanks to the insipid defending that has left Avram Grant's team still entrenched in a relegation battle.

Rory Delap hurled in a long throw and Huth was given too much freedom in the penalty area to powerfully head the ball past Green for his eighth goal of the season.

Against the run of play, however, West Ham were level and Stoke were once again counting the cost of a crucial refereeing decision going against them.

Piquionne clearly handled Thomas Hitzlsperger's flighted pass before chipping the ball over Thomas Sorensen and finishing under pressure from Huth.

It was the striker's last contribution of the afternoon as he paid the price for an ugly collision with the Stoke defender.

Stoke could have snatched a second late in the half when Green denied Jon Walters from close range.

But they wasted a golden chance to regain the lead 20 seconds into the second period when Etherington earned a disputed penalty after tumbling under a tame challenge from West Ham captain Scott Parker.

Green easily read Etherington's spot kick, though, and made a fine save as West Ham escaped further punishment.

But their fortune finally ran out in the 62nd minute. Stoke were awarded a free kick just outside the box after Carlton Cole had handled Jermaine Pennant's set piece only a few yards further away, and Higginbotham's low drive from the set piece was pushed onto the post by Green but rolled over the line.

Sorensen saved from Victor Obinna and substitute Robbie Keane while Matthew Upson nodded a Hitzlsperger corner against the bar as the Hammers laid siege but Stoke clung on to secure a famous victory.

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