Impressive Hammers throw away two-goal lead

Goals from Freddie Piquionne and Valon Behrami were not enough for West Ham to hold on for victory at St Andrews.

Birmingham City 2 West Ham United 2

ONLY David Gold knows whether his ticker would have survived this roller-coaster of early ecstasy followed by desperate disappointment, at St Andrew’s writes STEVE BLOWERS.

Banned from his former club by the new Birmingham City hierarchy, the 73-year-old co-owner of West Ham United certainly would have enjoyed seeing the Hammers take a deserved two-goal lead through Frederic Piquionne and Valon Behrami.

But just as the visitors looked set for a first away-day win since their victory at Wolverhampton Wanderers on the opening day of last season, it then all made for a miserable Midlands afternoon, when Cameron Jerome and Liam Ridgewell rescued an unlikely, undeserved draw for the Blues.

With three points evaporating into one, the Hammers remain rooted to the foot of the Premier League table ahead of next week’s crucial home games against West Bromwich Albion and Blackpool.

Avram Grant made two changes from the side that had succumbed to that last-gasp loss at the Emirates, last Saturday as fit-again, former Birmingham defender Matthew Upson returned alongside Carlton Cole in place of Manuel Da Costa (ankle) and Mark Noble (appendicitis).

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That saw lone-striker Cole take his place in a 4-3-2-1 formation that had Frederic Piquionne and Victor Obinna playing just behind the England striker.

Farcically, the visiting strike trio soon got an early soaking, when the sprinklers inadvertently burst into life on the edge of the Birmingham penalty area and, with the laughter still subsiding around St Andrew’s, Cole and Piquionne rained in early shots that posed little danger to Ben Foster.

But on 17 minutes, the Blues keeper had to be at his best, when Obinna’s curling cross from the right flank was met by Cole, who saw his eight-yard, side-footer palmed on to the base of the left-post, before being scrambled clear at the foot of the opposite upright.

Coming into this match with a dismal record of having had 29 shots without scoring, Obinna did his best to stay at the top of that particular Premier League chart with shot number 30 that flew cross-field for a throw-in.

That aside, Grant’s men were enjoying the best of the first-half exchanges against the 15th-placed Blues, who made just one change from the side that had shared a goalless draw at Aston Villa last Sunday, with Jerome replacing substitute Craig Gardner.

Neither the service-starved Jerome nor human battering-ram Nikola Zigic were receiving any scraps and indeed, it was not until first-half stoppage time that Keith Fahey finally fired a deflected shot towards Robert Green.

At the other end, the Hammers had simply been playing keep-ball to the frustration of a Midlands crowd that had only seen their team lose once at home during the past 14 months and, as the opening period drew to a goalless close, only the reflexes of the alert Foster prevented Cole’s crafty shot on the turn from squeezing inside his near post.

No doubt, Grant ordered more of the same for the second half.

For just three minutes after the break, West Ham took a deserved lead, when Luis Boa Morte threaded the ball between Ridgewell and Scott Dann, whereupon Piquionne kept his composure to drill an angled 10-yarder across the helplessly exposed Foster and claim his fourth goal of season.

With 57 minutes gone, the Hammers doubled their advantage after Scott Parker typically won possession on the halfway line before marauding deep into the heart of the Blues’ defence and finding Cole, who waited patiently before inviting the supporting Behrami to slam his square-ball past Foster from eight yards.

Alex McLeish responded with a double-switch that saw Gardner and Jean Beausejour replace Fahey and an anonymous Alexander Hleb but with the new arrivals still finding their feet, Obinna rocked the Blues’ bar with a scorching 20-yarder.

The 2,696 vociferous East Enders packed behind Green’s goal, could not believe what they were witnessing at the other end of the pitch but sadly they were about to experience an all too familiar change in East End fortunes.

On 63 minutes, Sebastian Larsson’s deep cross was nodded down by Zigic and Jerome bundled his second goal of the season over the line, to give the Blues a glimmer of hope.

And after Larsson let fly with a 20-yard free-kick that Green brilliantly beat away, the Swede then fired in another carbon copy effort that the Hammers keeper did well to claw out but this time former Upton Park youth starlet Ridgewell bundled home the rebound.

All-square, suddenly it was now anybody’s game and, although Behrami blazed inches over, the booked Obinna headed towards the 40-shot mark and the tugged-back Lars Jacobsen saw his penalty protestations turned away, joint-owner Sullivan could have been telephoning Mr Gold with even worse news had Danny Gabbidon’s knee not diverted Jerome’s late, point-blank shot up on to the crossbar.

BIRMINGHAM CITY: Foster, Carr, Ridgewell, Dann, Johnson, Larsson, Fahey (Gardner 58), Hleb (Beausejour 58), Ferguson, Zigic, Jerome (Bowyer 89). Unused subs: Doyle, Phillips, Derbyshire, Parnaby.

HAMMERS: Green, Jacobsen, Ilunga, Upson, Gabbidon, Behrami, Boa Morte (Dyer 82), Parker, Obinna (Kovac 90), Piquionne, Cole. Unused subs: Stech, Reid, Tomkins, Barrera, Kovac, McCarthy.

Referee: Michael Oliver. Attendance: 26,474.

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