Demba Ba torments poor Stoke as West Ham climb out of relegation zone

This victory was as comfortable as the position to which it propelled West Ham.

Demba Ba torments poor Stoke as West Ham climb out of relegation zone Anywhere outside the relegation zone can be considered cosy given the season that Avram Grant's team have endured and they now sit 17th. Tony Pulis might settle for finishing there, given that Stoke are sinking alarmingly. They are four points clear of the drop, but their performance was feeble enough to confirm they are among the teams in danger of demotion.

It took a blunder to bring this game to life. Until the 21st minute there had been but aimless skirmishing, before a lapse in communication in the Stoke defence gifted West Ham the lead. Mark Noble flipped a pass through the middle and Demba Ba set off in chase. The defender Marc Wilson and goalkeeper Asmir Begovic got to it ahead of the striker but they left the ball to each other, with the result that neither dealt with it. So Ba tapped into the empty net from close range to claim his fourth goal in four league games.

Ba could have joined Stoke in January rather than West Ham. Pulis was on the verge of signing him from Hoffenheim but aborted the transfer after a medical examination raised concerns about the striker's knee, which Pulis described as "a ticking timebomb". Ba was certainly too explosive for Stoke's defenders, his power and clever movement continually perplexing the visitors, but Pulis insisted he did not regret his decision. "We did what we had to do in good faith and you never criticise people for that," he said.

In the 29th minute Wilson brought Ba down some 30 yards out. Up stepped Thomas Hitzlsperger to flight a free-kick to the far post, where Manuel Da Costa arrived to butt a header into the net. Now West Ham had momentum.

Scott Parker, Noble and the outstanding Hitzlsperger provided a level of class from midfield Stoke simply did not have. Hitzlsperger, the German international whose return from injury has, along with Ba's arrival, been a major factor in West Ham's improved recent form, nearly scored before the break, bringing a fine save from Begovic with a swirling shot from the edge of the area.

Two minutes into the second half Ba barged through defence and won a corner. Noble delivered and Da Costa headed against the outside of the post.

Stoke threatened only sporadically. In the 55th minute Delap forced an awkward save from Rob Green with a long drive. Two minutes later Carlton Cole went even closer for the hosts, curling a delicious shot from the corner of the area towards the far corner of the net. Begovic dived full length to save. The keeper denied Cole again three minutes later after another mix-up in the Stoke defence.

The Stoke substitute Kenwyne Jones headed wide in the 67th minute and Green was twice called into action to foil Jon Walters, but in truth Stoke never looked worthy of a point from this game. Hitzlsperger made absolutely sure they did not get one by crashing the ball into the roof of the net in the 83rd minute after a run down the right by Parker.

"Even when we were last in the table and five points behind everyone else I was confident that we would survive and I still am now," said Grant. Pulis, having watched his team suffer their sixth successive defeat and their fifth in a row without scoring a goal, admitted to being "concerned" about the prospect of going down. "We need to get to 40 points as quickly as we can and then see how the table looks," he said.

Next Sunday's FA Cup quarter-final brings respite from the league. But perhaps not from Ba, given that Stoke's opponents are West Ham.

THE FANS' PLAYER RATINGS AND VERDICT

NEIL FAIRCHILD, Loveinthetimeofcollison.blogspot.comThat was excellent, really good. We made a couple of changes – Da Costa and Cole came in – and we played a different formation. It was a bit of a surprise at the start but it worked really well and it was a brilliant performance. As soon as we scored we got a second and we coasted really from then. It all looks more promising, we needed the last two wins and we now have a better chance than we did this time last week. The manager does like to tinker. I would like to think he believes this is the way to play and he will stick to this formula and we will play the same team next weekend.

The fan's player ratings Green 7; Tomkins 7, Upson 7, Da Costa 9, Bridge 6; Piquionne 7, Noble 8, Parker 8 (Gabbidon 90 n/a), Hitzlsperger 9; Cole 7 (Obinna 86 n/a), Ba 8 (O'Neil 82 n/a)

RICHARD MURPHY, Author, Stoke City On This Day Poor all round. We started OK but one ridiculous mistake and we never looked like getting back in it really. That mistake gave West Ham a lift and our heads dropped. I don't know the solution – we played well up to a point but it's not going right and it's a bit frustrating. We looked a bit better with Fuller on but you cannot rely on one man. Also he doesn't look as good when he starts as when he comes off the bench. We've got West Ham again next weekend [in the FA Cup] but we've got to start picking up points. We're two or three wins away from safety but we're throwing away points and chances, and we're sliding into it.

The fan's player ratings Begovic 5; Wilson 6, Huth 7, Shawcross 7, Pugh 6; Pennant 6 (Etherington 51 8), Whelan 6, Whitehead 6, Delap 5 (Jones 68 7); Walters 6, Carew 7 (Fuller 65 7)

To take part in the Fans' Verdict, email sport@observer.co.uk

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Paul Doyle at Upton Park, for The Observer on Saturday 5th March 2011 17.21 Europe/London

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