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Steve Blowers, Recorder Staff
Monday, April 9, 2012
West Ham 3 Birmingham City 3
Maybe just maybe, automatic promotion could still be a possibility for West Ham United after this Easter Monday encounter at Upton Park, where Sam Allardyce’s side mounted a stirring and spirited second half fight-back to salvage a precious point.
Ricardo Vaz Te’s 88th-minute penalty secured an unlikely draw for the Hammers, who had trailed by two goals at the break and Big Sam’s side now lie three points behind Reading with just four games to play.
Jordan Mutch and Marlon King had given Birmingham a two-goal lead by the half-hour mark, before Vaz Te gave West Ham a glimmer of hope with a header in stoppage time, only for Chris Burke to restore City’s advantage with virtually the last kick of a forlorn first-half
But it was a different story after the break, as Carlton Cole gave the Hammers a lifeline with 20 minutes remaining before Vaz Te levelled with that last gasp spot-kick that at least keeps Reading and pace-setting Southampton in their sights.
Quite literally, it had been a Good Friday for West Ham, who had broken the club record for away-day victories by making it a delectable dozen wins on the road at Oakwell.
And following that barnstorming four-goal battering of Barnsley three days earlier, Allardyce allowed himself the luxury of a slight re-shuffle as Abdoulaye Faye and lone-striker Cole came in for substitutes Guy Demel and Matt Taylor.
That saw James Tomkins head over to the right-back slot, while Friday’s scorers Vaz Te and Nicky Maynard pushed forward to join nine-goal Cole at each and every opportunity.
With ten minutes on the clock, Vaz Te let fly with the first attempt of the afternoon but his long-ranger deflected off David Murphy’s head and, shortly afterwards, the Hammers wide boy nodded over, too.
Ex-Hammer Chris Hughton had seen his fourth-placed side extend their unbeaten run to four matches with a 3-1 win over Crystal Palace on Saturday and kicking-off six points behind his former club, the Blues’ boss also made two changes with Wade Elliott and Guirane N’Daw replacing substitutes Andros Townsend and Hammers nemesis Nikola Zigic.
And as the quarter-hour mark neared, the breaking Burke looked like giving City the lead, when he ignored the supporting King to send a low, angled 15-yarder skidding across the greasy Boleyn Ground grass but, thankfully, an alert Robert Green was able to shepherd the awkward shot aside for a corner, which Curtis Davies then headed wide.
With West Ham struggling to break through the Midlanders’ midfield quintet, Mutch also drilled a low effort wide just inches wide before inflicting far worse damage on 27 minutes.
This time, the Blues midfielder robbed Gary O’Neil just inside the Hammers’ own half and after playing a one-two with King, he threaded a low 18-yarder around Winston Reid’s shins and inside the base of the static Green’s right-hand post to claim his second goal of the campaign.
If that was not bad enough, Birmingham took just three minutes to double their lead, when Cole mis-controlled and Elliott sent King sprinting between Tomkins and Faye and with the whites of the helplessly exposed Hammers’ ‘keeper in his sights the City striker calmly took his tally to 15 for the season.
A nasty clash of heads between George McCartney and Peter Ramage then saw the home left-back stretchered away as Danny Collins came on and, in the dying seconds of a desperately frustrating first-half, Maynard curled onto the bar only for Kevin Nolan to scuff the rebound straight into the arms of the relieved Boaz Myhill.
Two minutes into stoppage time, though, Vaz Te finally looked to have given the Hammers hope, when he headed home from close range after Tomkins nodded Mark Noble’s deep corner back across goal
That was the Portuguese poacher’s sixth goal since his January deadline day arrival from Barnsley but still Birmingham were destined to have the final word with virtually the last kick of the opening period.
This time Mutch’s corner was nodded away by Nolan, only for Burke to return a 20-yarder bizarrely bouncing into the turf and under the left-hand angle, thereby sending an exasperated East End back into stunned silence with his 12th goal of the season.
Henri Lansbury replaced Maynard for the restart and, after two penalty appeals were waved away, Vaz Te screwed wide, while Nolan fired across the face of goal as the claret and blue fans desperately willed West Ham forward.
Steven Caldwell then denied Cole in the act of shooting with a timely tackle but, with 20 minutes remaining, the former England striker made it into double-figures for the season, when he unleashed an angled 12-yarder into the far corner after Nolan cleverly held off his markers before hooking the ball into the danger zone.
Not content with one, Cole sent another 20-yarder scorching inches over before Collins deposited another fizzing effort onto the roof of the besieged Myhill’s net.
The brave Blues keeper also sprinted out to pluck the ball off Cole’s toes before Allardyce replaced Noble with Sam Baldock for the final ten minutes in one last desperate push.
And with just three minutes of an absorbing second half remaining, the Hammers incredibly drew themselves level when Lansbury’s scorching shot was charged down by the arm of Burke and cool as you like, with minimal run-up Vaz Te slammed home the consequent spot-kick.
With Southampton having beaten Crystal Palace earlier in the afternoon, this result still leaves Big Sam’s side three points adrift of second-placed Reading, who now travel to Brighton & Hove Albion tomorrow night, with the entire East End hoping that the Royals run aground on the south coast, ironically before the Seagulls, themselves, head to Upton Park on Saturday.
HAMMERS: Green, Tomkins, McCartney (Collins 34), Reid, Faye, O’Neil, Noble (Baldock 82), Nolan, Vaz Te, Maynard (Lansbury h/t), Cole. Unused subs: Taylor, Demel.
BLUES: Myhill, Ramage, Murphy, Caldwell, Davies, Burke, Mutch, Fahey, N’Daw (Zigic 68), Elliott, King (Townsend 80). Unused subs: Doyle, Redmond, Huseklepp.
Bookings: Caldwell (37), Zigic (72), Elliott (87)
Referee: Jonathan Moss