ANDY CARROLL rescued West Ham at the death to inflict a hammer blow to Stoke City’s survival hopes.
And he also spared the blushes of team-mate Joe Hart who had gifted Peter Crouch what looked to be the winner just moments before.
The towering frontman, playing his first game since January, was introduced from the bench with less than five minutes remaining in a final throw of the dice by David Moyes.
And it proved to be a masterstroke as the forward stroked home past Jack Butland after being teed-up by Aaron Cresswell.
The equaliser was a bitter pill to swallow for the visitors, who remain five points adrift of safety.
Paul Lambert’s men were under the cosh for long spells during the second period.
Goalkeeper Butland did his England chances no harm in front of the watching Gareth Southgate as he produced a super diving save to deny Cresswell just before the deadlock was broken.
Desperate for the victory, Lambert had decided to bring on his own giant striker Crouch.
And the 37-year-old repaid the faith shown in him by opening the scoring with just over ten minutes left.
Hart fumbled Xherdan Shaqiri's shot from the edge of the area and palmed it straight into the path of the onrushing veteran.
The sub could not miss and he poked it past the scrambling stopper for his first goal since November.
That looked to have sealed a first win in 10 matches for Stoke, but they failed to hold on as they edged closer to the Championship.
And it could have gotten even worse in injury-time.
Javier Hernandez thought he had fired the Hammers into the lead just seconds after Carroll’s leveller only for his effort to be ruled out by the goalscorer in the build-up.
That was the third time in the second period that West Ham had a goal chalked out.
Marko Arnautovic, playing against his former side, was offside when he headed home before he was flagged up again for interfering with play when Edimilson Fernandes’ shot beat Butland.
Moyes’ men are now seven points clear of the drop zone with just five games to go.
Stoke are five adrift of safety with only four matches left.
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