Filed: Monday, 9th April 2012
By: Staff Writer
West Ham may have failed to win for a seventh successive home game - but a fantastic second half comeback could provide the platform Sam Allardyce's side need to return to the Premier League at the first attempt.
3-1 behind at half time following some dreadful individual errors, West Ham were heading for a second successive home defeat and the play-offs before a second half performance that equalled any seen at the Boleyn Ground for many a year galvanised the team and its supporters - whilst keeping alive the club's slim hopes of snatching an automatic promotion spot.
Although tonight's result leaves the Irons three points behind Reading who also have a game in hand, the Royals have to visit both Brighton - who must win to keep alive their dreams of making the play-offs - and Southampton, who have been virtually invincible at home, this week.
And with West Ham rejuvenated and handed a massive psychological boost after tonight's incredible second half turnaround, who's to say that Brian McDermott's in-form Reading might not stumble at the final hurdle in the same way as Steve Coppell's team of 2005 did seven years ago?
Chris Hughton's Birmingham - who went into tonight's game on the back of three straight wins - had barely been in the game before they took the lead against the run of play on 27 minutes.
Having seen off West Ham's furious opening onslaught - that typically fell short in the final third - Jordan Mutch opened the scoring on the counter attack after he danced around a static Abdoulaye Faye before firing into Rob Green's bottom right-hand corner to stun the Boleyn faithful.
With the home side still in shock from the opening goal, the visitors doubled their lead just two minutes later after Carlton Cole lost the ball on the half way line.
A direct pass through to lone striker Marlon King - who lost his marker, the unusually under-par Faye with consummate ease - left the experienced striker one-on-one with Rob Green. Green, who had barely touched the ball beforehand could do little as the striker picked his spot and passed the ball into an empty net.
The in-form Ricardo Vaz Te scored his sixth goal since moving from Barnsley in the final minute of first-half normal time when a mark Noble corner was nodded back into the mix by James Tomkins and converted from five yards out by the Portuguese forward.
But unbelievably, Birmingham restored their two-goal advantage in the third minute of added-on time when Chris Burke's speculative effort from the edge of the box evaded everyone in a crowded box to find an empty net.
Having already lost George McCartney to a nasty head injury - one that saw the Irish full-back rushed to hospital for further examination - Allardyce rang the changes at the break by bringing on Henri Lansbury for the ineffective Nicky Maynard, who is yet to register a notable performance at the Boleyn despite impressing away from home.
And that change had an immediate effect when the Arsenal loanee was sent tumbling in the box by a clumsy challenge by Peter Ramage within two minutes of the restart. Although it appeared to be a clear penalty, referee Moss decided otherwise - as was the case when team mate Cole appeared to have his shirt tugged by Steven Caldwell midway through the half when poised to shoot.
Undeterred, Cole got back to his feet and a left-footed volley brought the Hammers back into the game with 20 minutes left on the clock. It was the least United had deserved for their determination since kicking off the second half.
Sensing a remarkable comeback, the Boleyn crowd - so often criticised, mostly unfairly, by the media this season - found their true voice and it was like the good old days once again as the team and supporters galvanised their efforts in the hunt for a dramatic equaliser.
After Cole, Danny Collins, the superb Kevin Nolan and James Tomkins had all seen efforts come to nothing it looked as if the Hammers were to be out of luck. But with just three minutes left on the clock, referee Moss awarded a penalty after Lansbury's fierce shot hit the raised hand of City's Chris Burke inside the box.
In truth, Burke could do little about it and of United's three second half appeals, it was probably the weakest. But West Ham's indignation at not being awarded either of their previous appeals was clearly on the mind of referee Moss who had no hesitation in pointing at the spot.
With Mark Noble off the pitch having been replaced by Sam Baldock minutes earlier, the chance to level the scores fell to Vaz Te. As the Boleyn Ground held its breath, Vaz Te planted his kick expertly straight down the centre and into the roof of Boaz Myhill's goal to grab the equaliser and what could yet prove to be a precious point in the race for automatic promotion.
Although the momentum has clearly swung back in the path of Southampton and Reading tonight, West Ham's remarkable comeback could yet prove pivotal in the race for promotion.
The general feeling of despondency felt around the club in recent weeks as the top two places slipped further away was instantly lifted with Vaz Te's penalty.
And even if the Hammers fail to grab one of the two automatic promotion berths come next month, that goal could rejuvenate the club in much the same way as the 3-4 defeat to Tottenham in 2007 did - and just in time for the play-offs, where form and momentum are absolutely key.
West Ham Utd 3 Birmingham City 3: match facts
West Ham Utd: Green, Tomkins, Reid, Faye, McCartney (Collins 34), O'Neil, Noble (Baldock 82), Nolan, Vaz Te, Maynard (Lansbury 46), Cole.
Subs not used: Demel, Taylor.
Goals: Vaz Te (45, pen 89), Cole (70).
Booked: Lansbury (68), Nolan (68).
Shots on/off target: 9/8 (17).
Birmingham City: Myhill, Ramage, Caldwell, Davies, Murphy, Burke, N'Daw (Zigic 68), Fahey, Elliott, Mutch, King (Townsend 80).
Subs not used: Doyle, Redmond, Huseklepp.
Goals: Mutch (27), King (30), Burke (45+3).
Booked: N'Daw (37), Zigic (72), Burke (88).
Shots on/off target: 6/3 (9).
Possession: West Ham Utd 44%, Birmingham City 56%.
Referee: Jonathan Moss (6).
Assistants: Stephen Bratt and William Smallwood.
Fourth Official: Gavin Ward.
Man of the Match: Kevin Nolan.
Did you Know? West Ham's three-goal haul was the first time Sam Allardyce's side had scored more than twice at home since the 3-1 home win against Derby on 26th November last year.
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08:15PM 10th Apr 2012
''That's our season in a microcosm; great for 15 minutes, awful for 30, hoofing it effectively for the next 45...
In the bad 30, we couldn't hit a long ball without hitting it too long, or a short without it being too short. For the second home game running, we've given away three ridiculously soft goals against a team next to us in the table and this, more than anything else, gives the lie to Sam's rhetoric about performances. The worst of it is that for those 30 minutes, in fact for much of the first 45, we didn't look patient, we looked clueless; we didn't look like we were keeping the ball, we looked like we didn't have the slightest idea how to get at, or through, the Blues.
The big change (and I will grudgingly give some kudos to BFS for this) was the appearance of Henri Lansbury. I'm not entirely sure why Maynard was sacrificed; he wasn't any less effective than most of our outfield players, and certainly was no more static than any. Nevertheless, Lansbury made us look lively. He didn't always make a good choice or a good execution but, good lad, he at least tried to move the ball quickly, whether he was running, passing, or shooting.
We were also hampered by a referee who seemed determined not to give much to the home side. We had two stronger penalty shouts than the one that was (rightly) awarded. On one corner, there was a perfectly shocking foul given, in favour of the keeper, when a stock-still Nolan (who I am no fan of!) was clearly shoved in the shoulders; mystifying.
We deserved the draw in the end, probably more, but our destiny is not in our hands, because we blew it last month. As I write, Reading are beating Brighton 1-0, and nothing short of a miracle will save us from the play-offs. If we play for the next four games as effectively as we did against Barnsley and for the second half against Birmingham, we have a good chance. Less than that, and I am not sanguine...''
by Mart WHU
11:40AM 10th Apr 2012
''Terrible first half defending for all their goals, great comeback by the lads. Second half, Cole took his goal well - unlucky not to have had another one. We should have had two penalties. I hope we finish second; none of us want the play offs. Gonna be close. UP THE HAMMERS.''
by g portugal
06:09AM 10th Apr 2012
''If it comes down to the play-offs,this second half performance will be important. Birmingham had us on the ropes and couldn't finish us off. "3-1 and you funked it up" loud-mouthed, ill-mannered Midlands supporters.''
by Sam Bartlett
09:03PM 9th Apr 2012
''Sorry but your stats must be wrong. There is no way Birmingham had more possession then us? ''
08:59PM 9th Apr 2012
''After reading the broadsheet reports, this one poos all over them. And that's as a Blues fan. Would debate the other two penalties until the cows come home, but a great game of football today and the right result. Let's hope we both go up. It'll be exciting.''
08:48PM 9th Apr 2012
''How we didn't get three points from this game I will never know. Still beleive we will go up one way or the other. Nolan was fanstastic, Cole was man of the match by a mile, Sam had it right - YOU cant blame him for any of the goals we gave them. Baldock instead of Maynard would be my only gripe but I aint gonna moan till it's over. We are good enough and with tonight's line up we will go up. COYI.''
08:25PM 9th Apr 2012
''This league was going to be a walkover wasn't it? I sincerely hope the arrogance has gone by now... To bottle it now would be tragic.''
08:23PM 9th Apr 2012
''Great report of the game. I agree with sentiments about 2007, when the 'Z' man lept like a salmon to head in against Spurs... Let's face it; the result didn't matter at the time; we lost; Noble cried, and for the first time in ages you thought there was hope. The players cared. I feel like that tonight. A moral victory. OK, two points dropped but a great come back. I don't think the fat lady has sung for us just yet.''
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