West Ham left with Wem­b­ley wait for Euro­pean sal­va­tion

The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - TOTAL FOOTBALL - By John Percy at the Bri­tan­nia Sta­dium

Slaven Bilic will be a Manchester United sup­porter on Satur­day as he faces an anx­ious wait to dis­cover if West Ham can qual­ify for Europe.

Bilic re­quires United to win the FA Cup and guar­an­tee West Ham Europa League foot­ball at the club’s new Olympic Sta­dium af­ter a sec­ond de­feat in 13 games threat­ened to end an ex­cel­lent cam­paign on a sour note. Mame Diouf ’s thump­ing header two min­utes from time leaves West Ham ner­vously wait­ing for the Wem­b­ley show­piece and a huge favour from Louis van Gaal.

West Ham’s de­feat and Southamp­ton’s vic­tory dropped Bilic’s team down to sev­enth place and they left the field to chants of “you’re not go­ing on a Euro­pean tour” from the Stoke fans.

Bilic had the air of a man whose dog had just chewed up the win­ning lottery ticket. “Of course we must hope Manchester United win against Palace,” he said.

“We feel we re­ally de­serve to be in Europe next sea­son so we’ve got to hope that United do us a favour. I’m gut­ted to lose this game and it’s hard to take. We don’t want to end a fan­tas­tic sea­son like this.”

De­spite Dim­itri Payet’s foot in­jury, West Ham’s sea­son was still very much alive and there was an in­evitabil­ity about their open­ing goal in the 23rd minute, Michail An­to­nio tak­ing ad­van­tage of abysmal Stoke de­fend­ing to fire past Shay Given.

Stoke’s re­sponse was alarm­ing, as they fre­quently gave away pos­ses­sion, and West Ham should have added a sec­ond six min­utes into the sec­ond half, but Di­afra Sakho was de­nied from six yards out by Given’s out­stand­ing re­flex save. It proved a costly miss, for Stoke were level in the 55th minute thanks to a fine low shot from Gian­nelli Im­bula, the £18.3 mil­lion record sign­ing.

The mood was now trans­formed, but Stoke still re­quired an in­credi- ble slice of for­tune to stay level af­ter a scram­ble which saw Given clear shots from En­ner Va­len­cia and Em­manuel Emenike off the line.

Glenn Whe­lan then cleared Cheikhou Kouy­até’s flick off the line – goalline tech­nol­ogy con­firm­ing it had not crossed over – and Bilic whirled around in his tech­ni­cal area, strug­gling to com­pre­hend what he was watch­ing.

Char­lie Adam al­most caught out Dar­ren Ran­dolph with an­other out­ra­geous lobbed ef­fort from 40 yards, but the goal­keeper was beaten two min­utes from time. Diouf was un­marked in the area, pow­er­fully head­ing home Adam’s cor­ner to flip the script for West Ham.

Stoke’s vic­tory en­sured they have fin­ished ninth for the third suc­ces­sive sea­son un­der Mark Hughes to pro­vide a sorely needed high­light at the end of a dif­fi­cult two months.

“It’s a mag­nif­i­cent achieve­ment to fin­ish ninth again and there’s a re­ally good feel­ing in the dress­ing room,” said Hughes.

Fall­ing away: Slaven Bilic can­not watch af­ter West Ham miss a chance

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