West Ham out of relegation zone after win over struggling Stoke
West Ham climbed out of the relegation zone after striker Marko Arnautovic returned to haunt his troubled former club Stoke.
David Moyes’ improving Hammers celebrated their first away victory of the season but the pressure will build further on Potters boss Mark Hughes, who has now won just one of his last eight games.
On his 300th league appearance, West Ham captain Mark Noble gave his side the lead from the penalty spot before Arnautovic doubled their lead.
The Austria international should have had a hat-trick, hitting the woodwork twice in the second half before finally finishing with his right foot into the bottom corner after a deft exchange of passes with Manuel Lanzini.
Substitute Diafra Sakho compounded Stoke’s woes when he collected Lanzini’s through ball and slotted coolly past keeper Jack Butland.
Kick-off was delayed by an hour at the Bet365 Stadium because of a power outage, but many home fans left early as West Ham supporters sang “You’re getting sacked in the morning” to a grim-faced Hughes.
A hugely improved rearguard and Arnautovic’s persistence were key for the visitors, who beforehand had the top-flight’s worst defence along with Stoke.
They were thankful too that most of Stoke’s best chances fell to captain Ryan Shawcross, who could not get a string of headers on target.
‘Arnie’ silences Stoke fans’ boos
They call Marko Arnautovic ‘Arnie’ at London Stadium, and the Austrian shares a steely determination with some of his Hollywood namesake’s biggest movie roles.
He was booed relentlessly by Stoke fans unable to forgive him for his £20m summer move to the capital.
But the 28-year-old, who was told he must work harder or risk being dropped when David Moyes arrived in November, used the barracking as motivation.
He braved the catcalls after he missed several strong chances, and hit the bar twice, and kept plugging away without letting his head drop.
When he was replaced on 79 minutes former boss Mark Hughes demanded he hurry off the pitch and a Stoke scarf was thrown at the striker from the stands.
Arnautovic’s response? He gave jubilant West Ham fans in the away end the Hammers’ crossed-arm ‘irons’ symbol and headed straight down the tunnel.
Just not enough spark for Stoke
They are having a party at Stoke’s stadium tonight.
More than 500 partygoers will toast the festive season at a pre-booked corporate event, but the Potters fans among them will not feel much like celebrating.
This latest setback against fellow strugglers puts even more pressure on next Saturday’s similarly high-stake game against second-bottom West Brom and also on manager Mark Hughes.
Stoke chairman Peter Coates has denied Hughes is facing the sack, but the problems are mounting for a side who are now one point and one place above the relegation zone.
Luck appears to have abandoned them with big officiating decisions, such as the close call when Erik Pieters was adjudged by referee Graham Scott to have felled Manuel Lanzini before Noble’s penalty.
They are also not helped by their over-reliance on playmaker Xherdan Shaqiri to provide a spark – he is just not being supported enough by other forwards.
Finally, they keep conceding softly – they have now gone behind first in their last five outings.
Something must change or the mood will continue to darken in Stoke, like the lights at the stadium when the power went before kick-off.
Man of the match – Manuel Lanzini (West Ham)
‘We’re gaining momentum’ – what they said
West Ham manager David Moyes told Match of the Day: “The result went our way and it was an important win. We’re gaining momentum and at times we showed that.
On the penalty: “The defender gave the referee a decision to make. Manuel Lanzini ran about 70 yards so I think he went over with fatigue rather than a dive. I’d be disappointed to give away a penalty like that but sometimes that’s the way it goes.
“We had to deal with a lot of stuff but we missed good chances. I was annoyed with Marko at half-time as he had the chance to get two. He’s doing really well and I said to him at half-time he would score.
“Clean sheets are one of the things you want to do. Don’t shout about it too much as we’re going to need a few more.”
Stoke manager Mark Hughes on Match of the Day: “We huffed and puffed, up to the point of the second goal we were in it. We were damaged by a poor decision – it allowed them to get people behind the ball. They’re a threat on the attack and in the end that’s what’s taken the game from us.
“When we try and be expansive we can’t go one v one, we get picked off. We’ve got to be better in that regard.”
Stoke City host West Brom next Saturday (15:00 GMT), while West Ham are at the Emirates to play Arsenal in their Caribao Cup quarter-final on Tuesday (19:45).