Birmingham City 0 West Ham United 1

Saturday, 18th August 2007
by Gordon Thrower

Away trips. You gotta love ‘em. Traipsing up and down motorways in the rain in the often vain hope of seeing three points join you on the trip home.

I often make these trips in the company of Romford and Gent. Over the years they have come to look forward to the snippets of interesting information that I impart on the geographical and architectural heritage of whichever town or city we are visiting. In fact a little tradition has developed where they feign boredom whenever I point out something of interest to them, their cries of "not the bloody architecture again" being part of the running joke.

So they were obviously very disappointed when I informed them that there'd be no such lecture this week due to the fact that Birmingham is basically a dump - though fine chaps that they are they hid their disappointment very well.

After a brisk trip in the new Gentmobile we arrived in Small Heath. I'd tried to look out for unusual landmarks to help the journey pass but the best I could do on the Coventry Road were the local knocking-shop (Lisa's Sauna and Massage if you're that bothered) and the brilliantly-named tattooist "Pain and Stain".

A quick chat with a local found us an away support-tolerant hostelry which was empty. Deano, who had followed us up, pointed out the preponderance of that horrible dark red brick from which the bits of Birmingham that aren't concrete seems to be constructed. Romford and Gent pretended to be unimpressed. Then it started to rain.

And rain and rain. A succession of even more drowned rat impersonators arrived and it was a drenched contingent that arrived at the ground a few minutes before kick-off. The changes had been rung following the poor performance against City the previous week and new signing Kieron Dyer was dropped straight into the side having finally completed is transfer from Newcastle.

However, despite optimistic noises all week from Chadwell Heath, neither Neill nor Parker were fit for selection leaving us with a starting line-up of Green, Spector, McCartney, Upson, Ferdinand, Noble Mullins, Dyer, Etherington, Zamora, Bellamy.

It wasn't the brightest of starts by either side. There were a few boos at Upson but frankly they were a poor effort and might have had more impact if they'd come from those in the ground whose voices had actually broken.

Light relief came from the taunting of the possible escapee from Lisa's Sauna & Massage parlour who seemed pleased of the attention. However the most notable thing about the opening stages were the empty seats. Hundreds of them. Clearly Birmingham possesses architectural gems as yet undiscovered that keep the population away from such a picturesque suburb on a rainy afternoon.

On the pitch, the first incident of note occurred early on. I can't be specific on time as, having finally found the lucky watch I wear to matches (it was missing last week obviously), the battery promptly went. Bellamy played a clever ball inside the full back who promptly hauled Dyer down. Ref Halsey somehow decided that neither the hand around Dyer's neck nor the clipping of his heels represented contact and waved play on. A poor decision.
With 5 minutes on the watch gone we gained a free-kick about 30 yards out. Noble drilled it low and hard through the wall - which obligingly got out of the way- only to see the ball come back out off the post. Shortly after Upson lost the ball horribly on our left hand side to let in Forsell but, shepherded slightly wide by Ferdinand, he sliced his shot beautifully wide.

Again with 5 minutes on the watch we won another free-kick. With everyone expecting a shot, Zamora cleverly played in Noble to the by-line, his cross being cut out with Bellamy hovering menacingly. Ferdinand shot high and wide from the resulting corner. This started a spell where we had the bulk of possession and a few half chances were created.

A cross from Spector eluded Zamora. Etherington picked up the bits but surprisingly pulled the ball back to Noble on the edge of the box rather than electing to play the ball back in. Noble beat his man and was promptly upended. His resulting free-kick came back off the wall and the ball found its way to Spector on the right whose dangerous ball in took a deflection to bring a smart save out of the sometimes dodgy-looking Doyle.

Birmingham then had a half chance of their own when a defensive header landed on the edge of the box at the feet of Muamba who, instead of shooting, took so long on the ball that most in the crowd had grown a beard by time he was dispossessed.

Back up the right end Doyle, who hadn't looked the strongest of keepers against Chelsea the previous week, came far too far for a cross that only Bellamy was going to get but the Welshman's nod back failed to find claret and blue. A clever flick over the head of his marker by Noble then produced a volley that was high and wide - the flick deserved better. Then from a home corner, Green gathered safely and his quick throw found Zamora whose ball down towards the corner was picked up by Bellamy who beat his man down on the by-line only to see his dangerous ball in towards Etherington was cut out for a corner.

Spector then picked up a yellow card for moaning to the linesman about an challenge which earlier, in the case of Dyer in the penalty box, had hitherto been allowed, the laws of the game having apparently changed somewhere during the course of the match. Halsey then awarded a free-kick on the stroke of half time for a foul where Bellamy clearly - and cleanly took the ball. The resulting free-kick ebded up with a shot from Jaidi that Green did well to turn away to mark the last action of a first half that had wavered somewhere between mediocre and average with the odd bit of "interesting" thrown in from time to time.

We started by far the brighter of the two sides in the second period - which came following a long and tortuous journey back from the front row by Upton Girlie to deliver my half-time Kit-Kat - thanks babe! Noble had a shot bravely blocked on the edge of the box by Jaidi and a Zamora effort from the edge of the box following a corner went over - the ball not quite coming down quickly enough to enable a decent shot.

There then followed a marvellous run down the wing and by-line by Noble who picked out Bellamy only for the resulting shot to bounce harmlessly wide off the back of Dyer. We were beginning to put on the pressure and much of the good work was coming from the left hand side where a rejuvenated Etherington was beginning to have a whale of a time. One burst into the box was foiled only by the 'keeper's legs.

We had another good shout for a penalty a few minutes later though this was largely missed by most people not behind the goal when Kelly stopped a promising move with clever use of his hand. Unfortunately this occurred on the blind side of the ref and the merited penalty went unawarded.

Zamora then turned his man beautifully in the box only to undo the good work by snatching at his shot and butting the ball high and wide. Another burst by Etherington - shaking off the illegal attentions of his marker once again- another ball land at the feet of Zamora only for the forward to make less than clean contact and see his shot bobble harmlessly across the goal.

Then with 20 minutes left Dyer fed Bellamy. Doyle had a sudden rush of blood to the head and, beaten by Bellamy to the ball, slid through the forward to give a ridiculous, unnecessary but gratefully received penalty. Noble ignored the not so subtle delaying tactics of the home side to put the ball bottom right to give us the lead that we deserved.

Birmingham threw players forward but didn't really look threatening. Noble cleared one at the near post that may have been going wide but the defence looked quite capable though some silly free kicks might have caused us problems against a better side. One such effort from McSheffrey brought an excellent save from Green who coped well despite the deflection.

With the home side looking to go forward we looked dangerous on the break - though I'd like to have seen us going for it a bit more on occasion rather than doing the "keeping the ball in the corner" thing we never seem to be any good at.

Gabbidon then replaced Spector who had been holding the back of his thigh in the way that players do when they want to give out the message "hamstring". This was followed by what would have bee a fantastic first goal from Bellamy. A long ball from the back looked harmless enough but the striker got between his defenders and was unlucky not to make more significant contact in trying the volley from over his shoulder.

Another break from Etherington saw him feed Dyer whose first touch might have been better but he ought to have put the game beyond doubt rather than shooting straight at the 'keeper. Bellamy broke away in similar vein though his chance needed a bit more work and Doyle saved well.

There was then a moment of unintentional hilarity when Halsey blew up for an offside in a manner that sounded like the full time whistle. People started to walk off the pitch only for Halsey to bring them back. No wonder, by my watch there were another 85 minutes left to play. There was just time for the home side to force but not take a corner then it was home time for real.

This was a deserved victory - whilst the performance wasn't quite back to the free-flowing best that us difficult-to-please supporters demand, we were easily the better of the two sides and, for all the obnoxious Bruce's moaning we were good value for the three points. (I haven't actually read the papers or seen the telly yet but if Bruce hasn't been whinging I'll be very surprised!)

It was a decent journey home - once we'd escaped Birmingham. Romford's attempted shortcuts merely changed the direction from which the rain was coming. Delays near the airport were caused by a series of coned off areas that seemed to have been created purely to keep the cone industry in place - certainly there were no road works occurring. You know when you're running late when you overtake the team coach on the way home!

Thanks to Romford and Gent for the usual companionship and especially Gent for the driving. Cheers to Upton Girlie for the confectionary. Up and running!

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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Robinson, James and Carson are in the England squad. No, really.

Jonathan Spector
Much better than last week though he still must be considered as a stand-in until Neill is fit again.

George McCartney
Solid - though one misplaced pass put Mullins in a position where he had no option to pick up a yellow.

Anton Ferdinand
Another much better performance - one early lapse in concentration apart he focussed on getting there and getting rid.

Matthew Upson
Solid enough but distribution was a bit suspect on a day when the passing was much improved.

Mark Noble
At the heart of much that was good. Did the right thing at the right time and kept a cool head for the penalty.

Hayden Mullins
Solid and unspectacular. Got his foot in and laid it off.

Kieron Dyer
Did enough to suggest he might be a useful acquisition but lack of time with his new team-mates was all-too apparent.

Matthew Etherington
Continued on from the promising spell last week which was strangely curtailed by his shift to left-back.

Craig Bellamy
Full of running and a constant threat to the home defence. A goal or two is next on the agenda.

Bobby Zamora
Time for shooting practice methinks. Got into a number of promising positions only to finish poorly.


Danny Gabbidon
(Replaced Spector, 86) Only on for a few minutes but got a good block in.

Jimmy Walker
Did not play.

Lee Bowyer
Did not play.

Luis Boa Morte
Did not play.

Dean Ashton
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Robert Green, Jonathan Spector, George McCartney, Anton Ferdinand, Matthew Upson, Mark Noble, Hayden Mullins, Kieron Dyer, Matthew Etherington, Craig Bellamy, Bobby Zamora.

Goals: Mark Noble 70                  .

Booked: Hayden Mullins 6 Jonathan Spector 44        .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Birmingham City: Doyle, Parnaby, Jaidi, Ridgewell, Kelly, Larsson, Muamba, Nafti, Kapo, O'Connor, Forssell.

Subs not used: Vine, Taylor.

Goals: .

Booked: Parnaby (35), Nafti (55), Ridgewell (69), Kapo (73).

Sent off: None.

Referee: M.Halsey.

Attendance: 24,961.

Man of the Match: Mark Noble.