West Ham Utd 1 Birmingham 1: McFadden leads Blues revival but Bowyer can only see red
Sunday 10 February 2008
"It fizzled out on us," reflected West Ham's manager, Alan Curbishley, glumly. He was alluding to the second half, one in which he conceded that neither team "looked as if they were ever going to score". But on this display he may well have been speaking about the remainder of the Hammers' season. Whether it was the blue skies above and glorious sunlight in which this contest began, or just simply the overall dearth of quality, this had an end-of-season feel to it – and we're still three months away.
After one victory in four games, West Ham's vision of European competition next season is receding. One point for Birmingham, though, was gratefully received. City will be quite content to finish their season in the position they clambered into as a result: fourth from bottom on goal difference.
Birmingham had begun edgily,as though they feared that Freddie Ljungberg's early opener, the Swede's first goal for West Ham, was the prelude to an onslaught. But the hosts flattered to deceive after James McFadden had equalised from the penalty spot with his first City goal, after Lucas Neill, who had only returned at 7am on Friday following a trip to Melbourne to represent Australia in a World Cup qualifier, had conceded a soft penalty.
West Ham, who had Lee Bowyer dismissed two minutes from time, fashioned sufficient opportunities in the first half to have won. But for all Dean Ashton's attacking verve, in front of Fabio Capello, the Hammers deteriorated if anything in the second period. But the England manager will have been impressed by the contribution of Matthew Upson.
Ljungberg opened the scoring after seven minutes. George McCartney's long throw-in found Carlton Cole, who headed the ball across goal, and the Swede, at the far post, shot high into the net. The Hammers could well have extended their lead, but Bowyer and Cole were both awry with their shooting. Curbishley's team were made to rue such profligacy after 16 minutes when the referee, Mark Clattenburg awarded a penalty following a foul by Neill on McFadden. The Scot converted the spot-kick.
Initially, the equaliser galvanised the hosts. Matthew Etherington wasted one breakaway and was later denied by Maik Taylor, who also thwarted Hayden Mullins. Bowyer, too, went close. City occasionally yielded evidence of their attacking quality, with Mikael Forssell heading straight at the home goalkeeper, Robert Green.
After the interval, West Ham were fortunate when Gary McSheffrey's effort was deflectedwide. But it was the Hammers who still dominated possession. Ashton was high, and then wide, with his attempts, before contriving to trap the ball under his foot when Etherington's free-kick fell to him. An Upson header was foiled by a fine save from Taylor before Forssellwent close for Birmingham and Bowyer was dismissed for atwo-footed tackle on Damien Johnson. Curbishley said he had asked Clattenburg to review the decision. "Hopefully, he'll overturn it," the manager said, although he did not appear too vexed by the affair. It was that kind of day.
Birmingham's manager, Alex McLeish, said: "It was a really spirited performance. We were written off last week, but we have bounced back again. We are out of the bottom three this week, but it means nothing until May."
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