Wow. What a couple of weeks! That second half come back against West Brom! The hammering of Burnley! That masterclass against Liverpool! And now a clean sheet and three goals scored at the other end! We have now netted 14 goals in the last three and a half games, conceding just 2 in reply! Going down? We might yet but this is pulsating stuff!
We were very good today. Not superb because we didn't have to be to beat this Stoke team; but there were signs of a fantastic team spirit. I loved the high fives and pats on the back. I loved the smiles. I loved the determination shown all over the pitch. And I loved the standing ovations afforded Ba, Cole and Parker when they were withdrawn from the fray. The crowd were still more subdued than they should be - the Stoke fans will put us to shame next week - but that apart, there was a real buzz about West Ham. We aren't just winning, we are playing well and enjoying it.
And I reckon Grant's critics aught now to apologise. The guy isn't just rotating players, he is picking teams and formations to suit the opposition. Last week, he used O'Neil to protect us from the driving runs of the Liverpool wing backs. This week, O'Neil was replaced by Cole, and Jacobsen by da Costa to deal with the aerial threat of Stoke. On both occasions, Grant got it spot on and, for the second home game in a row, we looked pretty damn solid at the back.
Up front, the movement and interplay of Ba, Cole and Piquionne was a joy today. It took about 15 minutes to click but after that, Stoke were at sixes and sevens trying to work out which big black guy was coming at them from where. They swapped positions, they pulled wide, they dropped deep, they played in midfield runners (and Bridge up the left flank), they switched the play across the full width of the pitch, they pressed Stoke when not in possession and they came off the flanks into goal scoring positions superbly.
In midfield Parker was superb. At last we are using him correctly, he is anchoring and only driving forward when sure there is cover behind. Look at the protection he gave to Bridge today, screening that left flank when Bridge ranged forward. For every free kick and corner, Parker was staying at home, protecting our goal instead of taking the corners or loitering outside the box. And when he ranged forward, he was incisive and effective. The run and pull back for the third goal was brilliant, as was the way Noble held the ball and slipped Scotty in. Piquionne was unlucky his shot was blocked but what a finish from Hitzlsperger! That ball was travelling and if Bergovic had got his hand on it, he would have needed it stitched on again afterwards! Noble claimed an assist with the first goal, playing in Ba and Hitz put in the free kick for da Costa's goal, so all three in midfield did their jobs brilliantly.
Cole so so nearly scored with two delicious curling shots and also forced Bergovic into an excellent save after harrying a Stoke defender into a terrible error; and Tomkins was unlucky with a header against the post. In the first half, apart from the goals, Piquionne missed a sitter. We really could have scored six today.
At the other end, Matty, Jones and Fuller caused us a few problems after they came on, but Green only had one real save of note to make. Apart from one flap at a cross from Green, we dealt with high balls into the box superbly, with Grant beating Pulis at his own game by selecting a team of giants. But we didn't sacrifice our style of football whilst we were about it! Come on Stani, Sav and all you other Grant critics, take a deep breath and give Avram the credit he deserves for this.
Defensively, I was hugely impressed with the way Tomkins adjusted to playing right back and with the leadership of Upson. there was one fantastic tackle when he was the last man and only one occasion when he got the wrong side of Jones, giving away a free kick as a result. da Costa had Carew in his pocket all afternoon, forcing the withdrawal of the Villa man, and generally played very well, scoring with a beautiful header from a delicious Hitzlsperger free kick. Yes he was half asleep when Fuller so nearly slammed home another great goal at Upton Park, but the ball flashed inches wide anyway so it didn't really matter. Where Tomkins was brilliant defensively, Bridge was excellent ranging forward, giving us width on the left.
So, with a defensive unit that looked tight, a midfield that saw all three clock up an assist and one score, and three forwards who were on fire, this was a very promising performance indeed. Ignoring the Cup, we have Tottenham and Man Utd next. It's about to become a little bit more difficult but this team, with this manager, may just be up for the challenge!
Player Ratings: Green 6; Tomkins 8, da Costa 8, Upson 8, Bridge 8; Noble 8, Parker 9, Hitzlsperger 9; Ba 8, Cole 8, Piquionne 7