On the road to Wembley

It had been written before the game that West Ham manager Avram Grant was “a dead man walking” and that he would get sacked “by kick-off”. Though a board meeting the day after West Ham’s 2-1 win against Birmingham in the Carling Cup semi-final first leg on Tuesday didn’t make any comments on the future of the beleagured coach.

Fact is that Avram Grant is still in charge, that in the meantime he has been able to sign a left back in the person of Wayne Bridge and that West Ham still are on the road to Wembley. Only the score of the exciting cup game under the lights of the Boleyn on Tuesday could have been better, taken into account the Hammers’ exceptional good and spirited display in the first half. But it also could have went a lot worse…

Worth watching

Having made all the way from Vienna to East London to watch the first sem-final at the Boleyn Ground in 21 years I can assure you that it was very much worth making the trip. West Ham’s team showed passion and fine passing, created lots of chances and made us all but happy when they took the lead in the first half!

That it was East End boy Mark Noble to score that goal from a tight angle was even more heart-warming. The only downer was that this strike remained West Ham’s only one that had hit the back of the net at half time! “I think we’d need three this time if we want to go through to the final,” the supporter sitting next to me said at half-time.

Dressing room talk

Well, we were going to see two more goals in the second half. But when Birmingham came out of the dressing room they seemed to be a different team. Who knows what manager Alex McLeish had told them in the dressing room? Certainly it must have been much different from the the words that Avram Grant and Wally Downes had spoken to their players. West Ham sat back as if they had been administered a tranquilizer by the coach, and when Birmingham scored the eqaliser from a corner everybody in the ground had seen that goal coming.

Support volume reduced, team reduced, but… 

And as if Brum’s strong comeback in the second half wouldn’t have been enough to make us think about “fortune’s hiding” again, West Ham got reduced to ten men after Obinna‘s senseless kick on Birmingham’s Larsson. The Birmingham support got louder and louder right behind Robert Green‘s goal, but the West Ham stopper kept his nerves and showed a very strong and commanding display. Very good to see that Rob has put his World Cup blunder behind and is back to his best!

Unfortunately the West Ham support wasn’t performing in the same way in that most difficult stage of the game. I think, nobody had expected the West Stand (where I sat at the Doc Martens Lower Tier, row AA) to make the noise that would have been requested to put the Brums back into their place, but also the West Ham End of the Trevor Brooking Stand failed to shout and sing back at this crucial stage of the game. The support had been very good from start throughout most of the first half when the Hammers played well but now there were moments when only the Birmingham fans made them heard, and as attack after attack was brought forward against West Ham’s goal I feared the worst.

Substitution pays off as fortune isn’t hiding

But surprisingly the red card that had reduced West Ham’s team to ten men didn’t turn out to be “lethal”. And the substitutions Avram Grant made after the red card paid off, as a tame effort by Carlton Cole somehow seduced Birmingham’s goal keeper Ben Foster to show a clumsiness that nobody would have expected after his excellent display in that game so far. The ball, mishit (or you could also say: “excellently side-footed”) by Cole, maybe took a very slight deflection from a defender, and slipped through Foster’s legs – a blunder that ranks among other typical ones that explain the “fame” English goalkeepers have among the fans from the continent. The English newspapers were fast to tell Mr Foster “You’re nuts” the next day for having conceded what we in Austria would have called “a Styrian goal”. “For me it was a great goal,” Avram Grant should say after the game and show his arid sense of humor again.

A great goal and it’s advantage West Ham

Well, for all of us it was a great goal and it came at the right moment with only 12 minutes left until the final whistle. Birmingham wasn’t that strong in the dying minutes, the West Ham support had recovered from its temporary weakness, and the team in claret and blue held on to their lead and in the end they gave us all but a reason to celebrate. The final whistle was blown, much to everybody’s relief, after four minutes of added time and stadium announcer Jeremy Nicholas who had already warmed my heart with playing “Seven Nation Army” (a song that also had been used by Rapid Vienna for a long time) was able to play the song “Bubbles” again as he always does when West Ham has won. Though the singing on the terraces was not as loud as in the beginning, it seemed that everybody was quite exhausted as were the players after 90 tense and exciting minutes on the pitch.

Most important of all: now the Hammers travel to Birmingham for the second leg on January 26th with a one goal advantage that would prove enough to go through to the final on February 27th in case of a draw.

Just for the records: a 1-0 loss in Birmingham in a fortnight would mean that the game goes to extra-time, as in the League Cup the away goals rule isn’t in force after 90 minutes. However if extra-time wouldn’t lead to another result than 1-0 the winner of the two leagues would be decided by away goals in the first instance. A somehow strange rule, but West Ham will have to score in Birmingham anyway if they want to go the road to Wembley until the very end!

Excellent semi-final record

In case of reaching the final Avram Grant’s excellent semi-final record would persist. So far he has reached three semi-finals (two with Chelsea, one with Portsmouth) and in every one of these attempts he has led his team to the final. Well, that Avram Grant still has to win a final is a different kettle of fish! In February we will have time enough to discuss how to change that. Instead of dicussing the sacking of the manager!

Which other team will reach the Carling Cup final isn’t all but certain at all. Ipswich Town, having been heavily beaten in the FA Cup last weekend, won their first leg against Arsenal 1-0 ! The Arsenal supporters’ expectation to go through to the final easily, when the congratulated us after West Ham’s win, should prove false the other evening!

Being back in time. Hopefully

After the game some pints of Lager were drunken and a lot of discussions held at the West Ham United Supporters Club neighbouring the ground with Sam and my other friends from Football United, and with Ben, another West Ham fan for whom I hope that he will have to shorten his February winter holiday in Austria to be able to be back to London in time.

In time for the final at Wembley. Hopefully.

West Ham 2 Birmingham City 1

West HamGreenFaubert, ReidTomkinsUpsonSpectorParkerNoble (Kovac 90), Sears (Hines 74); Piquionne (Cole 73), Obinna.
Goals: Noble 13, Ridgewell 56, Cole 78.
Red card: Obinna 59.

One Comment:

  1. rapidhammer said...

    VIDEO:
    http://footyroom.com/west-ham-united-2-1-birmingham-city-2011-01/

    Posted January 14, 2011 at 10:47 PM | Permalink

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