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Birmingham 3 - 1 West Ham (agg 4 - 3)

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Birmingham 3 - 1 West Ham (agg 4 - 3)

Post by nirvana on Thu Jan 27, 2011 3:13 am

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Birmingham 3 - 1 West Ham (agg 4 - 3)
Birmingham's Craig Gardner scored the winner in extra time
Gardner was third-time lucky at St Andrew's

By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer at St Andrew's

Craig Gardner's extra-time goal sent Birmingham City to their first major Wembley final for 55 years and set up a Carling Cup final meeting with Arsenal.

Avram Grant's West Ham United arrived at St Andrew's protecting a 2-1 lead from the semi-final first leg - and looked on course for victory when Carlton Cole's spectacular strike gave them an interval lead and extended their advantage in the tie.

Birmingham boss Alex McLeish, who had listened to his side jeered off after a desperate opening period, responded by introducing the giant figure of Nikola Zigic with the express purpose of unsettling the previously undisturbed West Ham defence.

What he lacks in technical ability the Serb makes up for in sheer presence and he was the unlikely figure who sparked a dramatic Birmingham revival that carried them to Wembley on a wave of euphoria.

At last something to cheer this season in the West Midlands


Lee Bowyer levelled the game on the night with an emphatic finish on the hour and Roger Johnson's powerful header 11 minutes from the end of normal time restored equality to the semi-final.

Lifelong Birmingham fan Gardner, brought up just four miles from St Andrew's, thought he had clinched a place in the final only to see his shot turned on to the post by Robert Green in the final moments as extra-time beckoned.

It was the second time he had struck the woodwork, but he was the hero four minutes into the extra period with another low drive that Green was powerless to prevent going in.

West Ham, so ordered early on, wasted chances to mount a revival of their own through Scott Parker and substitute Kieron Dyer - and eventually ran out of energy and ideas.

Birmingham's jubilation at the conclusion of a dramatic night was understandable as they can now prepare for their first major Wembley occasion since the 1956 FA Cup Final defeat against Manchester City.

They lost a penalty shoot-out against Liverpool in the 2001 Worthington Cup Final in Cardiff, but they will relish their return to Wembley and deserve huge credit for the way they lifted their spirits after looking down and out at half-time.

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McLeish proud of Birmingham display

West Ham boss Grant, given a vote of confidence by the Upton Park board after speculation he was to be sacked, must now raise the morale of his shattered troops after this devastating setback.

Birmingham needed a goal to bring the tie back level, but it was West Ham who demonstrated all the early ambition and composure - with youngster Zavon Hines twice testing Ben Foster after escaping the attentions of his markers.

Cole, so often the sleeping giant but looking in the mood when faced with a Birmingham defence in which Martin Jiranek was given a rare start, gave a warning of what was to come with a flashing drive that was only inches off target.

And he produced a moment of individual brilliance to provide West Ham with the goal their dominance deserved after 31 minutes. Cole took Wayne Bridge's throw-in before turning and sending an angled shot beyond Foster from 25 yards.

Birmingham were simply unable to enjoy any periods of sustained possession and only the woodwork saved them from falling further behind when Hines flicked on Mark Noble's free-kick.

The frustration of the home team was mirrored by the home fans at St. Andrew's as referee Howard Webb's half-time whistle was greeted with a resounding chorus of disapproval.

McLeish's answer to Birmingham's lack of inspiration was to introduce Zigic for Matt Derbyshire. It hardly added an edge of unpredictability to their approach but it had the desired effect.

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Set-piece errors cost us - Grant

Zigic's knockdown created an opening for Gardner but his effort from the edge of the area struck a post. He then won another aerial challenge to set up Cameron Jerome, who shot hopelessly off target.

The pressure was building, though, and West Ham's defence was finally breached just before the hour as Bowyer struck. Birmingham had loud penalty appeals rejected when Bridge appeared to handle, and when West Ham failed to deal with the resulting corner Bowyer lashed a powerful finish high past Green.

The entire mood of the game had changed as Birmingham exerted relentless pressure and Green did well to dive low to his right to turn away a long-range shot from the outstanding Barry Ferguson.

West Ham broke the shackles that had kept them in their own penalty box for most of the second half as Cole brought a save from Foster - but it was a rare moment of respite as Birmingham put Grant's side under siege.

Birmingham were transformed from the strugglers of the opening 45 minutes and they brought the tie level with 11 minutes left as Johnson rose to power a header beyond Green.

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Cup final is unbelievable - Gardner

And as West Ham rocked it needed more desperate defending as Jerome bore down on Green in search of the goal that could seal a place at Wembley.

Gardner thought he had won the tie for Birmingham with virtually the last kick of normal time, but once again he was denied by the woodwork after a vital touch from West Ham keeper Green.

He refused to be discouraged and finally got his reward four minutes into extra-time with a repeat of his last-ditch effort and this time it carried too much power for Green.

West Ham now needed a goal and Parker was almost the provider with a neat turn in the area only to shoot over from eight yards. Substitute Kieron Dyer was then guilty of an even more wasteful finish when he volleyed over from close-range with only Foster to beat - and West Ham's supporters ready to celebrate.

As the Hammers pushed forward with time running out, Birmingham substitute Kevin Phillips raced unattended towards goal but Green was equal to the task with an important block.

The miss was not to prove costly and the party started around St Andrew's as soon as the final whistle sounded.


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Re: Birmingham 3 - 1 West Ham (agg 4 - 3)

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