Carling Cup
Birmingham City 3-1 West Ham United 

Wednesday, 26th January 2011
by Staff Writer

A sadly familiar second half collapse - combined with a tie-turning refereeing decision - saw West Ham tumble out of the Carling Cup tonight.

Carlton Cole's first half strike had given the Hammers a 1-0 lead on the night before second half goals from former Hammer Lee Bowyer and Roger Johnson sent the tie into extra time - where Craig Gardner's effort won the night and a place at Wembley for the home side.

However Birmingham should have been reduced to ten men in the final minute of normal time when Barry Ferguson avoided censure for kicking Kieron Dyer in an off-the-ball incident; unlike Victor Obinna in the first leg, Ferguson got away scot-free.

As in the first leg, the Hammers controlled the first half - but crucially, managed to convert their dominance into just one goal.

Carlton Cole's second goal of the tie was a joy to behold; at the Boleyn it was Ben Foster's howler that allowed West Ham's number nine to register, but tonight the former England 'keeper was left clutching at air as Cole's spectacular, dipping 25-yard drive had him beaten all ends up as the Hammers extended their lead in the tie to two goals - a lead they took into the half-time break.

It was only two months ago that West Ham threw away a two-goal lead at St Andrew's in the Premier League fixture. That recent memory appeared to weigh heavy on the minds of Avram Grant's players as they began the second half a shadow of the team that had dominated the first.

So it was no surprise when City drew level on the night a minute ahead of the hour mark through former Hammer Lee Bowyer. A series of long balls aimed at the head of 6'7" substitute Nicola Zigic led to a Blues corner from which Bowyer lashed home a loose ball inside the box. Once again, the Hammers had been caught napping from a set piece.

Birmingham's onslaught continued but with the game approaching the final ten minutes, and with a trip to Wembley so tantalisingly close, it looked as if West Ham might just hang on. That was until the unmarked Roger Johnson sent the game into extra time with a pinpoint header from - you guessed it, a corner.

After Ferguson had managed to escape a complusory red card - and managed to get Dyer booked for reacting angrily to his sly kick (as was he) in the process - extra time exploded when Birmingham took the lead for the first time in the tie.

This time it was West Ham who were caught on the break and Gardner - who had twice hit the woodwork in normal time - saw his slightly deflected shot avoid Green's outstretched hand to make it 3-1 on the night, and 4-3 on aggregate.

West Ham pushed on in search of a second away goal that would have sent them through to the final without the need for penalties; Mark Noble, Scott Parker and goalscorer Cole all had oportunities of varying degrees of difficulty as the end of extra time neared but none managed to find their intended target.

In the end it was down to the excellent Green to save further embarrassment when he forced a David Murphy point-blank effort over the bar via his chin with the final whistle seconds away. If there was one player who didn't deserve to be on the end of a 4-1 drubbing, it was the England 'keeper who was oustanding tonight, as he has been all season.

So once again the Hammers are denied a trip to Wembley. Some will point to Victor Obinna's needless and stupid red card in the first leg as the main cause; others to Howard Webb's failure to spot Ferguson's equally nasty kick tonight. What if Freddie Piquionne, ridiculously red-carded at the weekend, had been available?

Regardless, the cold, stark facts are that West Ham are out of the competition having once again failed to hang on to a (two goal) lead - and that's nobody's fault except the players on the pitch and the management team who oversee them.

Attentions now turn to the other cup competition with high-flying Championship side Nottingham Forest up next at the Boleyn this weekend, in the FA Cup fourth round.

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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Comments to follow.

Julien Faubert
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Wayne Bridge
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James Tomkins
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Matthew Upson
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Jonathan Spector
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Mark Noble
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Scott Parker
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Luis Boa Morte
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Carlton Cole
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Zavon Hines
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Kieron Dyer
(Replaced Hines, 71 mins) Comments to follow.

Gary O Neil
(Replaced Boa Morte, 83 mins) Comments to follow.

Benni McCarthy
(Replaced Spector, 106 mins) Comments to follow.

Ruud Boffin
Did not play.

Winston Reid
Did not play.

Danny Gabbidon
Did not play.

Fred Sears
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Robert Green, Julien Faubert, Wayne Bridge, James Tomkins, Matthew Upson, Jonathan Spector, Mark Noble, Scott Parker, Luis Boa Morte, Carlton Cole, Zavon Hines.

Goals: Carlton Cole 31                  .

Booked: Robert Green 78 Kieron Dyer 89 James Tomkins 108 Carlton Cole 114    .

Sent off: None.

Birmingham City: .

Subs not used: .

Goals: Bowyer (59), Johnson (79), Gardner (94).

Booked: .

Sent off: None.

Referee: Howard Webb.

Attendance: 27,519.

Man of the Match: Gary O Neil.