Stoke City boss Paul Lambert said he “can’t ask for any more effort” from his players after Andy Carroll’s dramatic late equaliser for West Ham took the Potters closer to relegation.
The Hammers are now seven points clear of the relegation zone, with Stoke five points adrift of safety with four games left.
Stoke looked set for a first win in 10 games when Peter Crouch took advantage of Joe Hart’s fumble to score.
But fellow substitute Carroll, in his first appearance since January, volleyed home a last-minute equaliser from Aaron Cresswell’s cross.
Despite only winning the first of his 11 games in charge since replacing the sacked Mark Hughes in January, Lambert thinks his side would be certainties to stay up if they had played like this for the whole of the campaign.
“If the team had been playing like that at the start of the season, I wouldn’t be here – and they wouldn’t be in the position they’re in,” he said.
“I still think we need three wins. If we can get a little break on Sunday against Burnley, we’re certainly in with a fight.”
The Hammers thought they had won the game when Javier Hernandez scored in injury time, but it was disallowed for a Carroll handball in the build-up.
It was the third goal they had ruled out in the game. On the first occasion, Marko Arnautovic was offside when he headed home – and then he was interfering with play from Edimilson Fernandes’ shot.
All three decisions were correct calls by referee Michael Oliver, following a difficult few days in which he and his wife have been abused after he awarded Real Madrid a last-minute penalty against Juventus and sent off Gianluigi Buffon in the Champions League on Wednesday.
With both sides’ Premier League places in jeopardy, it was a hotly contested game for the official to deal with – the match produced 36 fouls, the joint-highest in a Premier League game this season.
“I think he is a really top referee,” said Lambert. “He got unfairly criticised from a lot of quarters. He had a good game today.”
Stoke City felt they were unlucky in recent defeats by Arsenal and Tottenham, and manager Lambert said before the game they had to get “something” at London Stadium. But this will feel like another loss, having come so close to only a second win in his reign.
They did not have too many clear goalscoring chances with Ramadan Sobhi, Moritz Bauer and Mame Biram Diouf all producing straightforward saves from Joe Hart in the first half.
Stoke’s best chance – bar the goal – came moments after Arnautovic’s disallowed goal when Diouf blazed over from six yards out.
Lambert had to be brave and he was when he brought on 37-year-old Crouch for Bauer, who was playing in midfield but is usually a defender.
It looked as if it had paid off in some style when Hart spilled Xherdan Shaqiri’s shot and Crouch turned in from close range.
Stoke have been in the Premier League for 10 years – and Crouch’s goal made him the Potters’ top scorer in that spell, with strike number 44 taking him past Jon Walters.
But unless they have a turnaround in fortune in the final four games, he will not have many more chances to extend that record.
West Ham are now seven points above the relegation zone – it would have been four but for Carroll’s late intervention.
Just as Lambert gambled to bring on Crouch, Hammers boss David Moyes did the same when he introduced the England striker, who had not played since January because of an ankle injury, in the 86th minute.
Four minutes later, the 29-year-old was celebrating an excellent equaliser as he swung a boot at Cresswell’s cross from near the penalty spot.
All of the Hammers’ three disallowed goals seemed fair decisions. Arnautovic, a former Potters player, was just offside when he headed in Cresswell’s shot.
He was then standing in Jack Butland’s eyeline when Fernandes scored from distance. And Carroll did appear to control the ball with his arm before laying it off to fellow substitute Hernandez.