West Ham 1 Stoke City 1: Andy Carroll saves Hammers at the death after Peter Crouch looked to have sealed vital win

Yet strikers Peter Crouch and Andy Carroll showed the next generation of highly-tuned athletes a few old tricks in East London last night.

Back in January the football world was sniggering quietly as first West Ham’s injury-prone Carroll and then Stoke’s 37-year-old Crouch were linked with shock moves to Chelsea.

It was never more than transfer window mischief but looking back on last night it might not seem so laughable now.

For it was not until the big men — 6ft 7in Crouch and 6ft 4in Carroll — came off their respective benches deep into the second half of a tedious match that there was  anything on display resembling the self-billed best league in the world.

From frustration to 20 minutes of utter chaos and a frantic end to a night which ultimately helps the home side far more than the visitors.

Joe Hart’s cock-up will dominate the debate but under the radar two old soldiers proved their worth to their clubs.

The closest Crouch and Carroll will get to the World Cup this summer is watching on TV and that will suit their clubs just fine.

As someone put it succinctly last night in the post-match debrief — Carroll would get injured playing Question of Sport.

His appearance on the bench last night was a shock in itself. An ankle injury was meant to keep him out for the rest of the season. Last night was the first showing of any kind for his club since January 4.

He has scored only three goals in another campaign blighted by his sickness record.

But all that will be forgotten for a while after he equalised in the 90th minute with a sweeping half volley from Aaron Cresswell’s cross.

Before that the hosts looked to be undoing all their recent good work against Southampton and Chelsea by losing at home to a team struggling in the bottom three.

Stoke have not won an away match since October 28 — at Watford – but they looked on course for that after Hammers stopper Hart handed them a gift-wrapped goal.

Crouch had only been on for nine minutes when he pounced on Hart’s error. With his build he could never move easily at the best of times but at his advancing age it is an achievement in itself for him to lace up his boots.

Yet the former England forward showed remarkable athleticism to react quickest when West Ham failed to clear their lines properly.

While the back four dithered, Stoke’s Joe Allen was alert enough to spot Xherdan Shaqiri and laid a tidy pass back to his team-mate on the edge of the West Ham box.

Shaqiri’s shot threaded through a crowd of players but should have been easy meat for Hart.

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Instead, the on-loan Manchester City keeper fumbled and planted the ball right in front of Crouch who merely had to prod the ball across the line.

Crouch was more surprised than anyone at the ease with which he helped himself to his first goal since last November. He moved even quicker to leap into the away end and celebrate with the Stoke fans.

They in turn rounded on Hart by chanting ‘England’s number four’ at the man who was once nailed one our country’s No 1.

That position now belongs to Jordan Pickford. But there is still a fight on to be the Everton keeper’s understudy at the World Cup.

And even more agonising for Hart is that Stoke’s Jack Butland is his main rival to be first reserve.

Moments earlier he had pulled off a stunning save to push clear a forceful Aaron Cresswell free-kick, with England boss Gareth Southgate watching in the stands.

Butland was beaten a further three times but two were clear offside decisions against Stoke old boy Marko Arnautovic who seemed too eager to prove something against his former club.

The other was when Carroll handled while tangling with Ryan Shawcross in the build up to Javier Hernandez’s last-gasp strike.

Crouch and Carroll are England’s past but there wasn’t a great deal on display last night that will cheer Southgate in the here and now.

The most composed performer on the pitch last night was Declan Rice.

West Ham’s 19-year-old defender is already a mature, elegant and reliable performer.

What is most frustrating for Southgate is that Rice was born and raised in Kingston Upon Thames in Surrey and is eligible for England.

That is still the case despite him having played a first team friendly for Ireland in the last international break but Rice is nailing his colours firmly to the Irish tricolour.

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