Premier League
West Ham United 2 Birmingham City 0

Wednesday, 10th February 2010
by Gordon Thrower

Ok, the feeling has returned to my fingers so I can just about start to type again. Those of you who were there will be aware that it was cold. Snow had been falling and it was probably nippier than the day the Wolves game had been postponed.

Being a midweek game there were no line closures on the tube so Transport For London cleverly engineered a points failure at Upminster to disrupt things so we could enjoy that authentic matchday experience. In fact I wasn't actually sure what I was dreading most - the match against a team that had lost only once in far too many games or the journey home afterwards which was going to be cold and awkward. It was nice to be wrong on both counts.

Pre-match all the talk was about 25% pay cuts and the difference of opinion between messrs Sullivan and Zola. Sulivan has appeared in the press about as much as John Terry in recent weeks and, if the trend continues, I suspect that it won't be the last time that Zola and Sullivan air contrasting views on the back pages.

The team news was that Ilunga was fit to resume at left back in place of Spector. Noble and Collison were given a rest on the bench and Benni McCarthy had quickly settled into the West Ham way of things by picking up the traditional knee injury in his first match, causing him to miss out. Minimum Wage Mido came in for his first start, giving us a line-up of Green, Faubert, Ilunga, Upson, Tomkins, Parker, Kovac, Behrami, Diamanti, Cole & Mido. Two strikers? Mr Sullivan you spoil us.

After the cheesy cockney medley had made an appearance, Jeremy, wearing a rather strange titfer gave the loathsome Mike Dean permission to start. When you sit next to the same people year in year out you develop loads of little in-jokes. One of ours is the fact that, if someone remarks "we started brightly", invariably something goes wrong. We exchanged knowing looks anyway as Diamanti looked sharp and Minimum Wage showed all the desire of someone who had been told there was a 25% pay cut on the horizon in the event of relegation. There were a couple of worrying moments though. Carr got the better of Diamanti on the right and stuck over a cross that Green parried and two defenders managed to scramble the ball away unconvincingly.

By and large though we had the better of things though there was a tendency to mess up the final ball - so no change there then. Typical of this was the earlier move when Mido had got the better of a defender on the Chicken run touchline only to elect to try to send in the cross with the outside of his left boot rather than the right one would have expected from that wing. Unsurprisingly the ball didn't beat the first defender and was deflected back to Hart in goal.

Hart had a little more to do a few minutes later. Kovac won a tackle in midfield and found Mido who chipped the ball up towards Cole. Cole controlled the ball superbly with his chest and brought in Diamanti in the inside left position. Diamanti's shot was heading towards the top corner before being tipped over by Hart. The corner bore no fruit however.
Though we looked good going forward, Birmingham had clearly seen footage of the Burnley match, in particular the first goal. This prompted a number of long balls over the top, a tactic that Tomkins occasionally looked shaky against. However, thankfully, most of these passes found the veteran Phillips giving chase rather than the younger - and faster - Jerome. It was Jerome who probably had the visitors' best chance on 28 minutes when, after a few one-touch passes, Bowyer managed to thread a ball through only for Faubert's presence to do enough for the striker to pull his shot wide.

Diamanti was beginning to become more influential, combining well on the left with Ilunga. So much so that he started getting singled out for special attention. Of course with the idiot Dean refereeing the yellow cards that were due for such challenges were strangely absent. This prompted some to question his impartiality, what with his uncanny resemblance to Jasper Carrott.

More good moves continued to be let down by the final ball. Behrami's fine break out of defence saw him swap passes with Minimum Wage only for Behrami to slightly overhit the ball into the box, Cole ending up fouling the defender in his attempt to reach the ball.

More good approach play saw Mido and Diamanti combine to feed Cole in the box. Cole was driven wide but skilfully made himself enough room to get a shot in but the effort didn't have the required curve on it and went wide on the right. Cole had another go when the visiting defence failed to deal with a low cross from Diamanti on the left and although Cole did well to get on the loose ball his shot was well blocked by a defender.

Up the other end a clever dummy from Phillips gave him room to shoot from the edge of the box with Green getting a fingertip to the ball to give away the corner, which the visitors wasted by fouling Green.

Eventually Dean got as fed up as the rest of us had been with the constant hacking at the shins of Diamanti and Bowyer became the first name in the book, presumably on the grounds that Dean found the name Gardner too difficult to spell. Dean then spent a few minutes having a breather whilst he told Bowyer off for complaining about a challenge from Parker, told Parker off for the challenge itself, then told Bowyer off once more for complaining that Parker hadn't been booked for the challenge that he'd been complaining about in the first place. The instruction that the ref should "get on with it" was roundly ignores and I wondered whose hamstring would be the first to go following the enforced bout of standing around and waiting.

Despite the odd nervy spell we had been the better side and we took the lead during the one minute of added time that Carrott's moment in the spotlight had prompted. Parker picked up a loose ball in midfield and embarked on a run that saw him beat three players. Dann was the fourth who ended up scything Parker down on the edge of the box just as Scotty looked about to burst into the area. Dann being easy to spell the deserved yellow was forthcoming.

There was a bit of debate between Minimum Wage and Diamanti as to who would take the free-kick. It was Mido who carefully placed the ball on the precise spot, carefully paced out his run and stepped forward. It was, however, Diamanti who ran up and curled a glorious effort into the "postage stamp" area of the top right corner, giving Hart absolutely no chance. A fine free-kick the likes of which Diamanti has been threatening for a while and it was every bit the equal of the sort of free-kick for which the manager was noted. You can read what you like into the celebration as Diamanti - and most of the other players - made a beeline for Zola in the technical area. If it was meant as a two-fingered (or whatever the Italian equivalent is) salute in the general direction of the directors' box then it was the best way of doing so!

The goal was the last action of the half as the memory of the cheesy cockney medley was happily erased by the arrival of Reef's "Place Your Hands" over the PA system, the combination of cold and music bringing back exceedingly fond memories of a particularly debauched skiing holiday some years ago.

The second half saw Ilunga fail to reappear. Presumably, it had been his dodgy hamstring that had the one to go during the aforementioned enforced bout of standing about and waiting. Spector came on to replace.

The half started with Dean awarding a free-kick against Parker for a foul on Ridgewell. Gardner played the pall along the ground to the left hand side of the box where Jerome had made a good run but, thankfully, the kick was overhit and Green was alert enough to come out and smother the ball.

Our second change of the match came on 65 minutes. Mido, robbed Ferguson and bore down on goal, electing to shoot weakly when Cole was placed handily to be played in on goal. It was the effort of someone who knew his next kick would be his last and, sure enough, on came Ilan as Minimum Wage left to generous applause.

A minute later McFadden, who had been mysteriously dropped to the bench by the visitors in favour of Fahey, replaced the Irishman. We were worried that McFadden's arrival might somehow inspire a goal. It did - but in a gloriously unexpected manner. From the throw that had allowed the substitution Spector found Cole. Cole turned and played the ball out wide on the right to Behrami. Behrami stood on the ball and fed the overlapping Faubert who got to the by-line before pulling the ball back for Cole to dive across his marker to head the ball in off the far post. It was a West Ham goal of old - good play out wide and a near post cross. In a completely different way it was every bit as good a goal as the opener had been - in fact (and I'm aware that I may be in a minority here) I reckoned it was actually better than the first because of the build-up. So there! The celebrations left Zola alone this time - he probably hadn't recovered from the earlier one - and Cole rightly applauded Faubert's fine cross that had invited the header.

The crowd - geed up by some interesting arm gestures by Zola - got a bit more lively. Behrami went on a run that ended up with a rather feeble shot that was easily dealt with by Hart - though it was probably going wide anyway. The resulting clearance went over the top and was allowed to bounce with Jerome getting wrong side. Green came out of his goal and Jerome hooked the ball towards goal but the effort lacked power and was easily dealt with by the covering Upson. McFadden then got past Kovac rather too easily and played a low ball in towards Bowyer who tried to divert the ball across goal. Upson slid across and the ball hit him on his trailing arm - it was no more a penalty than Dann's earlier block on Cole had been but with Carrott in charge you never know - and we can probably be thankful that the game wasn't the live one on the box, dean usually saving his daftest moments for the biggest audiences in order to get noticed.

That was really Birmingham's last hurrah. Much hilarity was gained from the introduction of Michel whose every touch was greeted with high-pitched "ooooh" calls - mainly from those in the kids for a quid crowd whose voices had actually broken. Carrott tried to liven things up by giving free-kicks against us irrespective of whether or not (usually not) there had been any actual contact.

Noble replaced Parker - who had had a fine match - on 85 minutes but there was just time for one final comedy spot. Mcfadden went down under absolutely no contact from Behrami. Carrott gave it despite (for once) being perfectly placed. McFadden ended up playing the free-kick short to Gardner who promptly fell over, before getting up in time to play a shot high and wide into the empty seats that the visitors had failed to sell.

The three minutes of stoppage were seen out with as much comfort as most of the rest of the game and the whistle heralded only the 5th win of the season.

OK so Birmingham were poor. Quite how a side that played that badly in the second half had gone so many games without defeat was baffling. However, although shaky at times in the first half, it would be too easy to put this win down to the paucity of opposition. Yes there was still that tendency to mess up the final ball but the game was won by a decent midfield performance - and we look so much better with two proper strikers as well. Of course Sullivan was quick to claim some credit for the victory, claiming post-match that his words had provoked a reaction. So before the Hull match look forward to him threatening to sell the first team squad for medical experiments unless they win. Well he's upped the stakes now hasn't he?!

Onwards and (I hope) upwards.

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Player Ratings

Robert Green
One good save first half, one rush of blood in the second. Largely untested in between.

Julien Faubert
Superb cross for the goal but got it horribly wrong a bit later when he tried to repeat the effort.

Herita Ilunga
Combined well with Diamanti in the first half before injury curtailed his part in the proceedings.

Matthew Upson
Looked much the steadier of the two centre halves on the night.

James Tomkins
A bit nervy in the first half but gained confidence as the match progressed.

Scott Parker
Bossed the midfield nicely and his run that led to the first goal was superb. MOTM for me.

Radoslav Kovac
Got his foot in well but please somebody tell him how to pass.

Valon Behrami
Put another few miles on the milometer and played his part in the second goal.

Alessandro Diamanti
A constant threat in the first half, he actually got through a fair bit of defensive work in the second period where he helped out Spector well.

A decent start to his Hammers career. Still a bit rusty but there were encouraging signs there.

Carlton Cole
Got better as the game went on and both started and finished the move that gave us the second.


Jonathan Spector
(Replaced Ilunga, 46 mins) Nobody's ever going to look at the team sheet and say "oh good Spector's playing". However, he had a fine second half replacing Ilunga and was even seen wandering forward to assist with the attack from time to time.

(Replaced Mido, 66 mins) A bit quiet when replacing Minimum Wage but appears to have a good touch on the ball and brought others into the game well.

Mark Noble
(Replaced Parker, 86 mins) Not really on for long enough to make a difference - the rest was much-needed in my opinion.

Marek Stech
Did not play.

Manuel Da Costa
Did not play.

Jack Collison
Did not play.

Junior Stanislas
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Robert Green, Julien Faubert, Herita Ilunga, Matthew Upson, James Tomkins, Scott Parker, Radoslav Kovac, Valon Behrami, Alessandro Diamanti, Mido, Carlton Cole.

Goals: Alessandro Diamanti 45 Carlton Cole 67                .

Booked: Matthew Upson 62          .

Sent Off: None sent off     .

Birmingham City: Hart, Ridgewell, Carr, Dann, Gardner, Johnson, Bowyer, Fahey, Ferguson, Jerome, Phillips.

Subs not used: M Taylor, Larsson, Vignal, Parnaby, Jervis.

Goals: None.

Booked: Bowyer (43), Dann (45).

Sent off: None.

Referee: Mike Dean.

Attendance: 34,458.

Man of the Match: Scott Parker.