So much that was unexpected came to Upton Park on Saturday: springtime, Fabio Capello, Alex McLeish's smile ... it was that kind of afternoon. And yet, towards the end, with aimless long balls becoming the tactic of choice for both teams, it was something foreseeable that disfigured this match: the Lee Bowyer sending off.
Bowyer, who has been known to ruffle the odd feather, was adjudged to have made a two-footed tackle on Damien Johnson, the Birmingham City captain, in the 88th minute. The red card seemed harsh, for Johnson was barely inconvenienced, but these are the pitfalls of being Bowyer.
The pitfalls of being Capello have different consequences. As the England manager, he watches more football than might be deemed healthy. He said nothing but he could not have enjoyed himself or benefited professionally from the experience.
McLeish, the Birmingham manager, did enjoy himself and did benefit. The 1-1 draw ensured that Birmingham climbed out of the bottom three of the Premier League table and enabled him to reveal how he coped with the frustrations of the previous week. "I went to the cinema," McLeish said. "I saw No Country For Old Men. There were a few red cards in it."
He could afford to joke but his demeanour was different earlier on when West Ham assumed early control. They scored in the seventh minute when George McCartney's throw-in was flicked on by Carlton Cole for Freddie Ljungberg to prod home at the far post.
But West Ham were lax, allowing Birmingham to win a penalty in the 16th minute when James McFadden fell under the challenge of Lucas Neill. McFadden took the kick and registered his first goal for Birmingham.
Dean Ashton looked on enviously. The West Ham striker endured a wretched time, on one occasion standing on the ball when clear through on goal. There are mitigating circumstances – the ankle injury that caused him to miss last season – but now, 23 matches since his return, he cuts an isolated figure. "I don't think I have done a bad job with bringing Dean back," Alan Curbishley, the West Ham manager, said. "He's done well to get where he is because it was a big injury."
It was left to Ljungberg to provide West Ham's creativity and for Anton Ferdinand to dictate the pace of play from the back, but late on they resorted to the long-ball tactic. Capello, brought up on the cultured cynicism of catenaccio, would not have appreciated the aimlessness of it all.
Goals: Ljungberg (7) 1-0; McFadden pen (16) 1-1.
West Ham United (4-4-2): Green; Neill, Ferdinand, Upson, McCartney; Ljungberg, Bowyer, Mullins, Etherington (Camara, 83); Ashton (Spector, 89), Cole (Faubert, 62). Substitutes not used: Wright (gk), Collison.
Birmingham City (4-4-1-1): Maik Taylor; Kelly, Martin Taylor, Ridgewell, Murphy; Larsson, Muamba, Johnson, McSheffrey (Parnaby, 87); McFadden; Forssell (Jerome, 76). Substitutes not used: Doyle (gk), Nafti, Zarate.
Referee: M Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).
Booked: Birmingham Johnson, McSheffrey, Muamba, Maik Taylor, Jerome.
Sent off: West Ham Bowyer (88).
Man of the match: Ferdinand.
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