A disastrous mistake with just 12 minutes to go by England goalkeeper Ben Foster gave ten man West Ham the initiative going into the second leg of the sides Carling Cup Semi-Final match.
The match had appeared to have been heading for a draw after Liam Ridgewell’s second half header from a corner just ten minutes after half time had cancelled out Mark Noble’s goal for the Hammers.
Noble’s rocket of a shot beat Foster at his near post as the former Manchester United goalkeeper was impeded by his own player and therefore saw the shot late, leaving him unable to do little more than parry the ball into the the side netting as the home side went a goal up inside the first fifteen minutes. While Foster would be held accountable for the winning goal late on in the match, there was little he could do about this one.
The first half came to a close with Birmingham City’s Scott Dann lying prostrate on the ground, something it appeared that much of his team had done for the match up until this point, so lacklustre was the Midland’s clubs performance in their first major cup semi-final in ten years.
However, following the half time interval an entirely different Birmingham beast appeared from the Upton Park away dressing room. Fired on by heir manager’s words during the interval they dominated all areas of the pitch, Barry Ferguson and Craig Gardner in particular bossing the midfield and not allowing West Ham to play the fluid football their fans so adore.
On their second half performance it was easy to see how the London club are rooted to the base of the Premier League table, and they were not helped when Victor Obinna recklessly and needlessly lashed out at Birmingham’s Sebastian Larsson, leaving the referee with no alternative but to reduce the home side to ten men.
However, a substitution that may well have bought the beleaguered Avram Grant some more time before the West Ham board sack him paid off, although more by luck than judgement. In the 73rd minute he introduced England striker Carlton Cole and just five minutes later Foster was left all at sea as Cole’s tame effort from outside the area trickled under his left hand as he dived to his right.
West Ham, buoyed by their home fans, held on for the last twelve minutes to see out the first leg of the semi-final.
The return leg will be played at St Andrews on 26th January, while in the other semi-final newly appointed Ipswich manager Paul Jewell sees his new side take on Arsenal, who currently lie third in the Premier League, at Portman Road