Coventry City 1 West Ham United 2: Cole's late hit gives Coventry the blues

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The Independent Football

Knocked out by Chesterfield last season, when the end of their interest in the Carling Cup spelt the beginning of the end for Alan Pardew's reign as manager, West Ham avoided another embarrassing defeat last night when Carlton Cole struck a stoppage-time heartbreaker to kill off Championship foes Coventry in the fourth-round of this season's cup.

The Coventry manager, Iain Dowie, a West Ham fan and former player, admitted he would love to see his old club go on to win the competition but found it hard to suppress the feeling that his battling team – conquerors of Manchester United in the third round – had suffered a miscarriage of justice. It had taken an own goal to bring West Ham level after Jay Tabb had given Coventry a well-deserved lead with 22 minutes remaining. There was more bad luck when the substitute Jonathan Spector appeared to flick a long ball on with a hand in setting up the chance from which Cole turned the tie on its head just 25 seconds from going to extra time.

But for a mistake by the 19-year-old centre-back, Ben Turner, blighting an otherwise fine performance, Cole would not have had the chance to shoot.

Watching the TV replay confirm that Spector had handled was hard to take, but Dowie put on a brave face. "It was a night to be proud of my players, not to complain," he said. "It was a handball but I'm not going to harp on. Referees get decisions wrong sometimes and Rob [Styles] has got this one wrong. Ben is a young man and he is inconsolable but he will learn from it. Good luck to West Ham – I hope they go on and win it. But sometimes you don't get what you deserve."

Tabb's goal had given Coventry hope that they could claim another scalp after their stunning 2-0 win over United at Old Trafford. The midfielder steered a neat header wide of the goalkeeper Richard Wright after running on to Isaac Osbourne's high ball.

Curbishley reckoned it was his team's poorest display of the season but fortune favoured them as Luis Boa Morte's shot was deflected by Kevin Kyle and then into his own goal by the Coventry full-back, Marcus Hall to level the scores three minutes later.

"I was not looking forward to extra time," Curbishley said. "When you get one team playing as well as they can against another team putting in their worst performance of the season, it was easy to explain how the game panned out that way, if not to know why."

It had been a match of few clear chances before the first of the goals, Leon Best having the best for Coventry, drawing a decent save from Wright – first-choice Robert Green was afforded a "breather" on the bench – before Cole headed wide from West Ham's only real opening.

West Ham will add Anton Ferdinand to a lengthy injury list after the defender tweaked a hamstring, but can climb the League by beating Bolton on Sunday. Mark Noble (groin) and Hayden Mullins (knee) were other casualties last night.

Coventry City (4-4-2): Marshall; McNamee, De Zeeuw, Turner, Hall; Tabb, Osbourne, Doyle, Gray (Simpson, h-t); Mifsud, Best (Kyle, 70). Substitutes not used: Ward, Cairo, Thornton.

West Ham United (4-4-1-1): Wright; Neill, Ferdinand (Gabbidon, 85), Upson, McCartney; Bowyer, Mullins (Spector, h-t), Noble (Pantsil, 61), Etherington; Boa Morte; Cole. Substitutes not used: Green (gk), Reid.

Referee: R Styles (Hampshire).