WEST HAM UNITED 2 VS BIRMINGHAM CITY 1
UNDER-FIRE West Ham boss Avram Grant blamed the incessant speculation surrounding his future for damaging the team after his 10 men rose above their Premier League travails to take a significant step towards the Carling Cup final.
A goalkeeping howler from Ben Foster gifted Carlton Cole the first-leg winner just 13 minutes from time, after Liam Ridgewell had drawn Birmingham level and cancelled out Mark Noble’s opener.
It puts the bottom-of-the-table Hammers within sight of a first Wembley date in 30 years and slightly reinforces Grant’s (right) flimsy job security, while the club’s own survival prospects are set to be enhanced by the arrivals of loan signings Wayne Bridge and Shaun Wright-Phillips, due to be announced this week.
Yet the Israeli’s future still hangs in the balance ahead of this morning’s board meeting, and he made no secret of his displeasure at the constant speculation relating to his future.
“I’m responsible for only one thing and if I don’t want to be here I’ll go to the owner, but the rest is up to the owner,” he said.
“It is much easier if the rumours around were like that at other clubs, but the rumours are only about West Ham. If it was more quiet it would help the players more.”
Grant added: “I’m not busy with this. You need to ask the person that gave the rumours, not me.”
Matthew Upson, James Tomkins, Jonathan Spector and Victor Obinna all tested Foster in a one-sided opening 45 minutes, but it was Mark Noble who made the breakthrough, his drilled volley from a tight angle squeezing past Scott Dann and in between the near post and goalkeeper.
It was no more than the hosts deserved, yet 14 minutes into the second half they were level again, down to 10 men, and should probably have conceded a penalty.
First Freddie Sears escaped censure for appearing to handle on the line from Cameron Jerome’s header, but from the ensuing corner the Blues did equalise, Ridgewell powering a header past a static Rob Green.
Then with the home side desperately needing to regain composure, Victor Obinna showed a complete lack of it and earned a straight red card for kicking out at Sebastian Larsson as the pair tussled at a throw-in.
It might have got worse for the Hammers, but another strong Birmingham penalty shout was ignored when Upson barged Barry Ferguson off the ball.
And if there was any doubt that fate was on the Hammers’ side it was eradicated in the 77th minute, when Cole struck the winner.
Foster should have easily saved a tame side-footer that slipped between the legs of Roger Johnson, but instead meekly fumbled it over the line.
THE CURSE OF THE ENGLAND GOALIES
Ben Foster is hardly alone in being an English goalkeeper with international credentials to have made a costly error in recent times. Here are three more examples:
Joe Hart has been in fine form this term, but his failure to deal with Paul Gallagher’s cross allowed Leicester to grab a draw on Sunday.
Scott Carson was culpable in the recent defeat at Fulham. Allowing Simon Davies’ shot to slip through his fingers was the low point.
Robert Green endured a torrid time against Chelsea in September. Spilling Frank Lampard’s free-kick after two minutes set the tone.
Cole scored his eighth League Cup goal in 15 career matches
Picture: ACTION IMAGES