The stage was set for West Ham United. The club had never been better off at this stage of a Premier League season, confidence was high and Stoke City's away form had been terrible. Sam Allardyce's Movember tache looked magnificent and the evening called for his team to cement their place in the top six, to keep the Upton Park bubbles buoyant.
The fear nagged that it had to fall flat. West Ham are past masters of embracing chaos while Stoke tend to revel in pooping parties. This was no disaster for Allardyce's team but the sense was that it represented an opportunity missed. After Joey O'Brien had scored his first ever Premier League goal to equalise Jon Walter's classy first-half strike, West Ham looked set to buck a recent trend. Only twice had the London club come from behind to win in the previous 62 Premier League fixtures in which they had trailed.
They enjoyed a purple patch and it felt as though the winning goal might come. Modibo Maïga had a shot cleared off the line by Glenn Whelan, following Andy Carroll's towering header and Gary O'Neil bent a shot just wide. But West Ham ran out of steam and ideas and their frustration was epitomised by Carroll's response to his late substitution. Amateur lip-readers had no trouble in discerning his thoughts on Allardyce's decision or the expletives. Carroll has not scored in eight appearances for the club.
"He wants to score the goal and he wants me to leave him on for 90 minutes," Allardyce said. "But he put that much effort in and we had others on the bench who could give us more energy in the final minutes. He will be disappointed, I know. But I make decisions for the benefit of everyone. He is not to get frustrated."
It was a bruising encounter yet there were flickers of finesse, most notably from Walters for his goal, when he arrived to sweep home Whelan's low corner with the sweetest of first-time connections. Carroll, defending on the line, could not keep it out. Walters had bent his run from the far corner of the six-yard box and past the penalty spot, with his marker, George McCartney, having been stopped in his tracks by a block from Charlie Adam. A little mischief was allied to the precision.
Tony Pulis, the Stoke manager, rejoiced on the touchline. Any member of his union loves it when a training ground plan comes together. "If the referee has eyes in the back of his head, he would have given the foul against Adam," Allardyce said. "But the routine was undefendable."
Pulis could be pleased with his team's first half football and said: "The worst thing that happened to us was half-time." Robert Huth's header was clawed to safety by Jussi Jaaskelainen while the eye-catching Steven Nzonzi hit a rising drive from outside the area against the underside of the crossbar. West Ham were disjointed in the first half. Apart from Kevin Nolan's shot that drew a smart save from Asmir Begovic, they were reduced to spluttering over refereeing decisions. Allardyce's demand for better quality, though, was heeded on the restart while Pulis described Stoke as "sluggish". West Ham's tempo became higher, their movement sharper.
Nolan had somehow failed to convert McCartney's cross from point-blank range when West Ham recycled possession for O'Neil to cross from the right. O'Brien's imitation of a centre-forward was more than passable when he lifted his shot high past Begovic. There was the merest hint of offside, which prompted some grumbling from Pulis about home teams getting such decisions but it would have been a difficult one for the assistant to have ruled out.
West Ham's grandstand finish, though, did not materialise. For Stoke the wait for an away win stretches to 16 league games yet the regrets belonged chiefly to the home team.