Cole opens account to debit City

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The Independent Football

Joe Cole's first goal for West Ham, swept into the Birmingham net with only five seconds of the regulation 90 minutes remaining, completed a dramatic fightback by the Premiership outfit against their First Division opponents last night.

Joe Cole's first goal for West Ham, swept into the Birmingham net with only five seconds of the regulation 90 minutes remaining, completed a dramatic fightback by the Premiership outfit against their First Division opponents last night.

With only three minutes left, Birmingham led 2-1 and were edging towards a mouthwatering quarter-final tie against Aston Villa or Southampton. But Paul Kitson equalised from close range and Cole's final flourish spared West Ham the rigours of extra-time.

The prospect of a Second City derby had clearly not set pulses racing locally. Just as Villa reported yesterday that they expected a turn-out of no more than 15,000 for their fourth-round tie, so there were massive swathes of empty blue seats around St Andrew's.

Absenteeism was also a factor in Birmingham's team selection. The worst injury crisis that their manager, Trevor Francis, has known in three decades in football deprived him of four strikers as well as both first-choice wingers. Two other forwards were cup-tied.

In attack, Francis went for the unusual pairing of Allan Johnston, the wide midfielder who is in temporary exile from Sunderland, and Darren Purse, a burly centre-back. Yet before the match was eight minutes old, the odd couple combined to set up an exhilarating goal.

Purse revealed hitherto hidden subtlety to flick a pass from midfield into Johnston's path. The Scottish international jinked past Javier Margas before shooting. The ball rebounded off a defender, as did his second attempt. This time, however, it fell to Graham Hyde, who buried his second goal of the season from 10 yards.

West Ham, who rested Joe Cole and Trevor Sinclair, and gave a first start to Gary Charles, should have drawn level in the 14th minute. Steve Lomas's cross found Paolo Di Canio unmarked, only for the Italian's volley to rear up off the pitch and over the bar.

The equaliser was delayed only until the midway point in the first half. Lomas, 25 yards out, shot powerfully enough, but a deflection off a Birmingham head left Kevin Poole helpless.

After surviving a bad miss by Paulo Wanchope, who looked yards offside, Birmingham regained the lead 90 seconds before half-time. Purse was again involved, winning a foul as Neil Ruddock clambered over him. Martin Grainger curled the free-kick high beyond Shaka Hislop, the left wing-back's third goal in as many games.

Birmingham might have increased their advantage after a swift counter-attack left three attackers facing only two defenders soon after half-time. Johnston appeared determined to have a go himself and did so, firing feebly at Hislop as Purse's decoy run left Jonathan Bass with a free shot to his right.

West Ham had already brought on Sinclair after the interval and was soon forced into a further change. A rugged challenge by Grainger brought a premature end to Charles' return to the city where he once served Villa, leading to the introduction of Cole.

Harry Redknapp's third throw of the dice, which saw Kitson replace the ineffectual Wanchope, was the prelude to a period of intense pressure by the Premiership team. A series of quickfire one-twos foundered amid a forest of blue shirts, while Marc-Vivien Foé headed over from a Marc Keller corner.

Birmingham defended gallantly until the final minutes when Di Canio, at last breaking free of his tiring markers, played a part in the goals which carried West Ham to an improbable victory and left the hosts reflecting on what might have been.

Birmingham City (3-5-2): Poole; Rowett, Holdsworth, Johnson; Bass, Holland, Hyde (Hughes, h-t), O'Connor, Grainger; Purse, Johnston. Substitutes not used: Bennett (gk), Charlton, Newton, Gill.

West Ham United (3-5-2): Hislop; Ferdinand, Ruddock, Margas (Sinclair, h-t); Charles (Cole, 53), Lomas, Lampard, Foé, Keller; Di Canio, Wanchope (Kitson, 59).

Substitutes not used: Forrest (gk), Minto, Kitson.

Referee: G Poll (Tring).

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