Foster's howler hands West Ham and Grant relief from the gloom

West Ham United 2 Birmingham City 1

Birmingham City and England goalkeeper Ben Foster made a monumental blunder to give West Ham United a narrow advantage in the Carling Cup semi-final, but it still may not be enough to save Avram Grant from the sack.

The Israeli's players certainly performed for him, with the exception of Victor Obinna who was sent off early in the second half for kicking Sebastian Larsson in the privates. And with 10 men left on the pitch, and the first leg of this contest swinging towards their visitors, his team produced the move of the match to clinch victory with Carlton Cole's winner, although Foster committed a horrendous blunder to let the weak shot creep under his body and over the line.

Yet it may still not be enough to save Grant, whose future will be the main topic under discussion when the West Ham board meet today. The club's leading figures are said to be split on the matter of whether to sack or back the Israeli, with vice-chairman Karren Brady advising that now is the time to change manager, while co-owner David Gold is more inclined to favour giving Grant more time.

Last night's evidence will not have made the decision any clearer. West Ham were outstanding for the first 45 minutes, took the lead through Mark Noble's ferocious drive from a tight angle, and would have scored many more but for the excellence of Foster in the Birmingham goal.

However they were pegged back when Birmingham upped their game after the interval, lost discipline when Obinna lashed out in frustration, and but for Foster's howler with 12 minutes to go, would have come out with a draw.

It will be in Grant's favour when the board meet today that the victory gives the club a record of four wins from their last seven games. But on the debit side is the fact that West Ham still prop up the Premier League, and they do not play well consistently well for long enough.

Much like Grant's Portsmouth side of a year ago who were relegated but reached the FA Cup final, West Ham are showing in cup competitions the potential within the side, but failing to translate that form regularly enough into the Premier League, and ultimately that may decide Grant's fate.

Not a bad way to go, though, if this does prove to have been his final game. It was a thrilling cup tie from start to finish, and is nicely poised for the second leg at St Andrews in two weeks' time.

Grant was non-committal about his future afterwards. "I'm not the man that you need to ask," he said. "If I don't want to be here, I will go to the owner and say. The other decision is not mine. I lived with rumours, I think, since day one.

"For me, it doesn't matter. I'm doing my job. If everything was more quiet, I think it would help the players more.

"But even with this, you saw the spirit of the players today. I think everybody needs to respect this spirit. I don't spend much time on this [speculation]. I spend a lot of time dealing with the problems in the team. Don't worry about me. I will be fine in any case. Why do you need to ask me about something that is not in my control?

"You can ask me why I picked this player and not the other one because this is my responsibility. You can ask me if I want to stay or not ... no, no. Don't ask me this."

West Ham began the match picking up where they left off in the last round of the Carling Cup, when they beat Manchester United 4-0. A flat atmosphere inside Upton Park was lifted by a barnstorming salvo from Grant's side. Freddie Sears and Matthew Upson, playing an unfamiliar role at left back, both went close before Mark Noble put West Ham ahead after 13 minutes. Noble surged from midfield and from his cross Victor Obinna's header was cleared off the line by Birmingham's Liam Ridgewell. Jonathan Spector hooked the ball back out to the right flank to Noble, who dispatched it with ferocity inside the near post of Foster who was unsighted by team-mate Scott Dann standing right in front of him.

Birmingham were a different side after a half-time dressing down from manager Alex McLeish, although they lost defender Scott Dann to a torn hamstring. Liam Ridgewell pulled them level with a header from Sebastian Larsson's corner, and they were desperately unluckly not to have a penalty when Upson barged into Barry Ferguson, "a stonewaller" according to McLeish.

West Ham were reduced to 10 men when Obinna flicked up his heel to connect with the groin of Larsson standing behind him. It was an ugly act, spotted by linesman Simon Long.

After half an hour on the rack, West Ham produced the move of the game to take the lead, thanks to a horrible error from Foster. Parker passed to Spector, who centred to Carlton Cole. His low shot was poorly struck, but just had enough momentum to trickle over the line as Foster lost his balance and let the ball creep between his legs for the softest of goals.

McLeish said: "The goal was a monstrosity but Ben is a big man and will take it on the chin. He doesn't hide and apologised to the players. He's saved us many times in the past and will save us many times in the future."

West Ham United (4-1-4-1): Green; Faubert, Tomkins, Reid, Upson; Parker; Sears (Hines, 74), Spector, Noble (Kovac, 90), Obinna; Piquionne (Cole, 73). Substitutes not used Boffin (gk), Spence, Nouble, Boa Morte. Sent off Obinna (59).

Birmingham City (4-5-1): Foster; Carr, Johnson, Dann (Murphy, h-t), Ridgewell; Larsson (Zigic, 87), Gardner, Ferguson, Fahey, Hleb (Beausejour, 83); Jerome. Substitutes not used Taylor (gk), Jiranek, Mutch, Derbyshire.

Man of the match Noble.

Match rating 8/10.

Referee P Dowd (Staffordshire).

Attendance 34,754.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there