West Ham revival zapped by Zigic

The Hammers returned to the bottom of the Premier League after a dismal home defeat by Birmingham City on Sunday.

West Ham United 0 Birmingham City 1

IT PROVED a futile February afternoon of frustration for West Ham United at Upton Park, where Nikola Zigic zapped the Hammers survival hopes with a second-half winner writes STEVE BLOWERS.

In a dismally disappointing encounter for the East Enders, the towering six-foot, seven-inch Serbian headed home his sixth goal of the season to both send City into 16th spot and leave Avram Grant’s side stuck in the bottom three with just a dozen games to play.

Following their bitter Carling Cup semi-final defeat at St Andrews 11 days earlier, the Hammers in 19th berth came into this crucial encounter with Alex McLeish’s side knowing that victory would send them leapfrogging over the Blues into the safety zone.

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Wednesday’s wonderful win at Blackpool had taken West Ham level on points with 18th-placed City and following that 3-1 victory at Bloomfield Road, Grant made just two enforced changes as Winston Reid and Matthew Upson came into central defence in place of the crocked Danny Gabbidon (hamstring) and James Tomkins (calf), who was injured in the warm-up.

But after that enthralling victory over the Seasiders the beached Hammers looked all washed up for most of this scrappy game and, indeed, it was fully 20 minutes until Ben Foster was called upon to field Gary O’Neil’s speculative long-range lob, before Frederic Piquionne forced him into another comfortable save and then Victor Obinna drilled wide.

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The visitors, who were only above the Hammers by virtue of their superior seven-goal difference, had forced a draw against Manchester City on Wednesday evening and, after naming an unchanged line-up, McLeish would have been equally disappointed with his own side’s early lack of firepower as David Bentley and Craig Gardner unleashed wayward shots inside the opening quarter-hour.

As the half-hour mark passed, Roger Johnson nodded over a left-wing cross from ex-Hammer Lee Bowyer, while at the other end, Lars Jacobsen failed to find a claret and blue shirt from the byline before Johnson found himself back in his own six-yard box clearing Obinna’s awkward centre.

But, in truth, apart from the consequently-booked Mark Noble’s tenacious tackle on Bentley, there was little to suggest that the crowd were witnessing a relegation dog-fight and Robbie Keane’s skier on the stroke of half-time merely summed up an awful opening 45 minutes.

Manuel Da Costa replaced the hobbling Upson for the start of a second-half that soon saw Piquionne nod on for Keane, who just could not get the ball to roll kindly for him, while Obinna then saw his scorching shot charged down.

With the hour mark approaching, City brought on Sebastian Larsson for Cameron Jerome, while Grant responded by introducing Carlton Cole – who had scored against the Blues in both legs of the semi-final - at the expense of Piquionne.

McLeish’s switch was destined to have more impact, for midway through the half another needless Noble challenge on Bentley allowed Larsson to curl a left-wing free-kick to the far post, where Zigic rose unmarked to nod City into the lead.

Determined to hold on to their advantage, Foster was finally booked for time-wasting and, as the clock ticked down, the tiring Keane was replaced by Demba Ba.

The Hammers new arrival from Hoffenheim wasted no time crashing a rising, angled eight-yarder against the near angle after Noble’s free-kick into the danger zone was nodded onto the oblivious Reid by Da Costa.

Finally, West Ham were stirring into life. Da Costa let fly from 30 yards forcing Foster to get down at full stretch to turn the shot aside and with the Portuguese defender now playing as an out-and-out striker, there was still time for him to nod just an inch or so beyond the far post.

Obinna also curled wide, while Foster also bravely dived into the studs of Scott Parker but West Ham’s agonising afternoon was summed up by late bookings for the on-loan Nigerian and Da Costa, who took their frustration out on Barry Ferguson and Stephen Carr in the dying seconds.

HAMMERS: Green, Jacobsen, Bridge, Reid, Upson (Da Costa h/t), Obinna, Noble, Parker, O’Neil, Piquionne (Cole 60), Keane (Ba 75). Unused subs: Buffon, Kovac, Sears, Faubert, Ba.

BIRMINGHAM CITY: Foster, Carr, Ridgewell, Jiranek, Johnson, Bentley, Bowyer, Ferguson, Gardner, Zigic, Jerome (Larsson 57). Unused: Doyle, Murphy, Phillips, Fahey, Davies, Beausejour.

Referee: Chris Foy

Attendance: 32,927.

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