Hope turns to despair for West Ham

Birmingham City 2 West Ham United 2
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The Independent Football

The defensive sins of autumn proved too great a burden for West Ham United to cast off yesterday as they slipped below the Premiership's gilt-edged waterline into the uncertain depths of the Nationwide League. Their departure, after a decade in the top flight, proved an anti-climactic one. Bolton Wanderers' 2-1 defeat of Middlesbrough at the Reebok secured their survival irrespective of West Ham's result at St Andrew's. In the event they could only draw.

The defensive sins of autumn proved too great a burden for West Ham United to cast off yesterday as they slipped below the Premiership's gilt-edged waterline into the uncertain depths of the Nationwide League. Their departure, after a decade in the top flight, proved an anti-climactic one. Bolton Wanderers' 2-1 defeat of Middlesbrough at the Reebok secured their survival irrespective of West Ham's result at St Andrew's. In the event they could only draw.

At no stage yesterday were the London club in a position of safety but for 15 second-half minutes they had hope. After 65 minutes, shortly after a thousand transistor radios broadcast Michael Ricketts hauling Middlesbrough back into the game 200 miles north, Les Ferdinand put the Hammers ahead at St Andrew's. Yet, with all ears in the away end straining for news of a Middlesbrough equaliser, their horrified eyes saw Geoff Horsfield snatch one for Birmingham. So no fairytale finish for Trevor Brooking's management cameo, just a frantic one as Stern John appeared to inflict his first defeat after 87 minutes only for Paolo Di Canio to secure a bittersweet send-off with a late leveller.

It was not quite the Italian's parting shot. He delivered a volley of criticism for the board and, indirectly, the stricken manager Glenn Roeder, before heading out of the English game. "When you are bottom for a year it is not just the players' fault," he said. "We must take our share of responsibility but so must the organisation. They had the time to change things."

Di Canio will not be the only Hammer clearing out his locker at their Chadwell Heath training ground this summer. There are some rich pickings at the Boleyn and West Ham, with their debt about to mushroom past £40m, are in no position to resist. Ideally they would only dispense with big-earning low-achievers like Tomas Repka, Lee Bowyer and Frédéric Kanouté but they may also have to wave farewell to some of the prize graduates from their impressive youth scheme. Joe Cole, Michael Carrick and Jermain Defoe lead this shopping list though an astute manager might also try to prise away the promising right-back, Glenn Johnson.

In the immediate aftermath David James and Kanouté were among those players emerging from a tearful dressing-room to pledge their future to the club but even if such sentiments survive their agents' advice it is not entirely down to them.

Brooking, who confirmed that his spell in charge was temporary, admitted he did not expect the squad that starts next season to resemble the one which finished this. "There is a £15m gap in income and we have to reduce our wage bill," he said. "We are supposed to cut it by half but with 46 League games, not 38, that will not be easy. We need to get a structure in place which can give us the opportunity to bounce back."

Planning is complicated by Roeder's illness. The manager will have surgery later this week and Brooking said he hoped to speak to him before then. "It will be a joint decision between the board, coaching staff and Glenn. We need to see where we want to go and where one or two others want to go."

That West Ham should go so close to staging a dramatic escape was a source of frustration and pride to Brooking. As Steve Bruce admitted: "They have some fantastic individual players and made it very difficult for us." But the Birmingham manager was not describing the full picture when he added: "You saw what West Ham are all about."

This season West Ham have also been about shocking defence, a collapse of confidence and a failure to recognise that, in the grind of the Premiership, talent is not enough. Birmingham knew this all along, which was why their supporters were able to treat yesterday as a celebration. West Ham fans hoped to be joining in but the blue balloons were still drifting to the sidelines when their day went from hope to despair inside 60 seconds. With eight minutes gone Ferdinand released Defoe for a clear run on goal. The young striker advanced on Ian Bennett but delayed his shot so long that Birmingham were able to regroup and block. The bank of visiting supporters were still digesting this wasted opportunity when the news came through of Per Frandsen's 20-yard strike at the Reebok. "One-nil to the Wanderers," came the chant from the home end.

The news deflated West Ham and they struggled to lift the tempo against a hard-working but uninspired Birmingham. As their anxiety grew, players attempted to do it all themselves and both Cole and Ferdinand shot over with team-mates better placed.

Jay-Jay Okocha's second goal for Bolton, after 20 minutes, further disheartened the Hammers but then they began to play with the relaxed air of condemned men. Jeff Kenna headed a Defoe free-kick off the line, Bennett clutched a Cole shot at the second attempt, then stretched to gather a Christian Dailly header. The pressure continued after the break, with Bennett making a point-blank save from Ferdinand and Upson clearing Trevor Sinclair's header off the line before Ferdinand headed in Cole's cross.

West Ham hoped anew but, after Kanouté had struck the post, Horsfield ran on to Bryan Hughes' pass to chip James via Rufus Brevett's deflection, then Stern finished a sweeping counter-attack by driving in Savage's cross. Di Canio's equaliser was an irrelevance, except that it underscored the needless nature of West Ham's descent.

Goals: Ferdinand 65 (0-1); Horsfield (80) 1-1; John (87) 2-1; Di Canio (88) 2-2.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Bennett 6; Kenna 6 (Devlin, 72), Purse 5, Upson 6, Clapham 5; D Johnson 4, Clemence 4, Savage 4, Lazaridis 6 (Hughes 5, 72); Horsfield 6, Dugarry 6 (John 6, 62). Substitutes not used: Marriott (gk), M Johnson.

West Ham United (4-4-2): James 6; G Johnson 6, Repka 5, Dailly 5, Brevett 4 (Di Canio, 82); Sinclair 5, Cole 7 (Hutchison, 87), Lomas 5; Kanouté 5, Ferdinand 6, Defoe 4. Substitutes not used: Van der Gouw (gk), Cisse, Moncur.

Referee: G Poll (Tring) 5.

Bookings: Birmingham City: Clemence. West Ham: Brevett.

Man of the match: Cole.

Attendance: 29,505.

THE PRICE OF FAILURE HOW RELEGATION MAY AFFECT WEST HAM

Player transfers With West Ham one of the highest paying clubs in the Premiership, they will have to sell some of their prize assets. The following could be on their way out of Upton Park (possible destinations in brackets):

Bowyer Free (Tottenham)
Breen Free (Sunderland)
Di Canio Free (Brescia)
James £3m (Manchester City)
Kanouté £6m (Liverpool)
Cole £10m (Liverpool)
Carrick £7m (Middlesbrough)
Sinclair £3m (Portsmouth)
Repka Free (Sampdoria)
Moncur Free (Gillingham)
Hutchison Free (Sunderland)
Defoe £12m (Manchester Utd)
Winterburn Free (retirement)

TELEVISION RECEIPTS

This will be the area in which West Ham will be hardest hit following relegation to the First Division. Premiership clubs have earned an average of £25m each in TV fees this season; the figure for the entire Nationwide League is £26m. While Premiership clubs each receive a basic annual TV award of £9.4m, the figure for First Division clubs is just £586,000 each. The fee to Premiership clubs for a live TV game on Sky Sports is £970,000, compared with £60,000 for First Division clubs.

GATE RECEIPTS

West Ham enjoyed an average Premiership gate this season of 34,432. Although their crowds are likely to be some of the highest in the First Division, especially if results are good, a substantial drop in gate income seems certain.

RELEGATION COUNTDOWN HOW THE FINAL AFTERNOON UNFOLDED

Bolton (at home to Middlesbrough) and West Ham (away to Birmingham) go into their final games with the relegation equation simple: unless they better Bolton's result, West Ham will be relegated and Bolton will survive

First blood to Bolton as Per Frandsen opens the scoring for Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium

Bolton 1 Boro 0
Birmingham 0 W Ham 0

Jay-Jay Okocha scores from a twice-taken free-kick to double Bolton's lead against Middlesbrough

Bolton 2 Boro 0
Birmingham 0 W Ham 0

Half-time: Bolton have a two-goal lead, while West Ham have it all to do at Birmingham

Bolton 2 Boro 0
Birmingham 0 W Ham 0

Michael Ricketts scores for Middlesbrough against Bolton, his former club, to revive West Ham's hopes

Bolton 2 Boro 1
Birmingham 0 W Ham 0

Les Ferdinand scores for West Ham. If Boro pull another goal back at the Reebok, Bolton are relegated

Bolton 2 Boro 1
Birmingham 0 W Ham 1

Geoff Horsfield brings Birmingham level. West Ham and Boro must both score again if West Ham are to survive

Bolton 2 Boro 1
Birmingham 1 W Ham 1

Stern John puts Birmingham in front. West Ham now need to score twice – and also need Boro to score

Bolton 2 Boro 1
Birmingham 2 W Ham 1

Paolo Di Canio scores for West Ham after 89 minutes. Is West Ham's escape act back on?

Bolton 2 Boro 1
Birmingham 2 W Ham 2

The final whistle goes at the Reebok Stadium. Whatever the result at Birmingham, West Ham are relegated

Bolton 2 Boro 1 (final)
Birmingham 2 W Ham 2

Final whistle at Birmingham. West Ham go down with a total of 42 points

Bolton 2 Boro 1 (final)
Birmingham 2 W Ham 2 (final)

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