Grant blasts referee after Hammers blow their lead

Birmingham City 2 West Ham United 2: Israeli staggered by the 'farcical' decision to deny West Ham a late penalty
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The Independent Football

David Gold must have been tempted to stay away more often when West Ham plumped up a two-goal cushion with only a third of the game remaining. Banned by Birmingham after allegedly hostile comments about his former club's chairman, Peter Pannu, the Hammers' joint chairman would have deemed it a price worth paying to savour their first away win in 24 attempts.

But where the Premier League's bottom team are concerned, misfortune's always hiding around the corner. In the space of nine minutes, Birmingham's Cameron Jerome and Liam Ridgewell struck to negate the advantage Frédéric Piquionne and Valon Behrami had given West Ham in a 10-minute burst after half-time, and only the woodwork spared West Ham from defeat.

Avram Grant, however, was less angry about the points that got away than with referee Michael Oliver. The 25-year-old official ignored appeals for an 88th-minute penalty after Jean Beausejour tugged the marauding Lars Jacobsen's shirt. "Farce," complained the West Ham manager, who used the word another four times. "What we saw from 50 metres, he could see from five."

Alex McLeish, whose team have won only three of their last 20 League fixtures, admitted Birmingham played "badly" until they adopted a blood-and-thunder style after going 2-0 down.

The sideshow of Birmingham's ex-owners had threatened to overshadow the main attraction. However, with Gold absent after being told he would not be allowed into the boardroom or directors' box, and Karren Brady also missing, David Sullivan was alone in braving what proved to be the mild-mannered flak from the St Andrew's faithful.

Sullivan was pictured on the in-house TV system smiling broadly as kick-off approached. Perhaps he had advance notice of the bizarre events of the third minute. With West Ham on the attack, four water sprinklers burst into activity in the Birmingham half. Two stopped swiftly but the others showered the players for a minute, prompting Mr Oliver to call a halt while the groundstaff rushed to find the off-switch.

The game featured two of the candidates to play in goal for England against France later this month. At first, Birmingham's Ben Foster was far busier than Robert Green, making an outstanding save to deny Carlton Cole after 18 minutes. From a right-wing cross by Victor Obinna, Cole sidefooted goalwards from six yards. Foster, swooping to his right, tipped the ball on to the post and watched it pass almost along his goalline before it was cleared for a corner. Green, by contrast, was relatively untroubled by a Birmingham side bereft of energy and ideas.

That would change dramatically, though not until West Ham had built a handsome lead. Luis Boa Morte set up the first for Piquionne, galloping between the centre-backs, to angle a crisp shot past Foster.

Another incisive passing move, which began after a loose pass by Scott Dann and involved Boa Morte and Cole, led to Behrami arriving to drive the ball home. West Ham's joy was unconfined, but McLeish instantly made changes, introducing Beausejour and Craig Gardner, and Birmingham were a team transformed.

Both their goals stemmed from free-kicks by Sebastian Larsson, the first being steered in by Jerome after the towering Nikola Zigic headed the set-piece into his path. Delivering the ball from a more central position, the Swede tested Green with a shot that the keeper could only parry to the unmarked Ridgewell, who gleefully despatched the loose ball. With West Ham reduced to hanging on grimly, Jerome poked the ball past the onrushing Green in the 78th minute only for Daniel Gabbidon to knee the ball to safety via a post.

Attendance: 26,474

Referee: Michael Oliver

Man of the match: Foster

Match rating: 6/10