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Match Report
West Ham Utd vs Birmingham
 2 - 1 
Boleyn Ground
Phil Dowd
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West Ham United will travel to St Andrew's with a slender Carling Cup semi-final advantage after scoring a stirring 2-1 first-leg victory over Birmingham City at the Boleyn Ground.

The Hammers dominated the opening 45 minutes, creating numerous chances and going in 1-0 up at half-time through Mark Noble's outstanding 13th-minute strike.

However, Birmingham emerged re-charged after the break and equalised through a powerful Liam Ridgewell header eleven minutes into the second period.

When Victor Obinna was sent-off for a challenge on Sebastian Larsson moments later, it appeared as if West Ham's Wembley dreams could disappear.

Birmingham pressed hard for a winner, but instead it was the ten men in claret and blue who forged a first-leg advantage when the previously unbeatable Ben Foster allowed Carlton Cole's first-time shot to squeeze under his left leg and into the net.

With the Boleyn Ground bouncing with noise, the Hammers held on to take what could be a vital lead to the Midlands on Wednesday 26 January.

In front of the live BBC cameras, the first leg was a thrilling spectacle from the kick-off until the final whistle.

West Ham went on the offensive almost from the start, making neat patterns and moving confidently in a new 4-4-1-1 formation with captain Matthew Upson at left-back and Jonathan Spector supporting lone striker Frederic Piquionne.

It was Upson who forced Foster to make his first save, reacting quickest to stab the ball towards the top corner before the England goalkeeper intervened with his fists.

The opening goal arrived on 13 minutes and was both created and scored by Noble.

The No16 beat two defenders before crossing for Obinna to head down and Spector to hook the ball across the six-yard box. It bounced high enough for Noble to rifle a shot between Scott Dann, Foster and the near post.

Having gone ahead, West Ham went for the kill, with Spector and Obinna both stinging Foster's palms with rasping efforts.

Had it not been for the Blues' No26, the tie could have been over before half-time.
As it was, despite losing Dann to a torn hamstring at the break, Birmingham came out all guns blazing after the break and deservedly levelled when Ridgewell nipped in to power Larsson's corner past Robert Green.

When Obinna was dismissed for kicking out at the Sweden winger, the Hammers were suddenly reeling, but the back four stood firm in the face of a barrage of dangerous crosses and corners.

With 18 minutes to go, Birmingham screamed loudly for a penalty when Upson tangled with Barry Ferguson, but referee Phil Dowd waved away the visitors' claims.

Seconds later, Hammers boss Avram Grant threw on Cole and Zavon Hines in what turned out to be a tactical masterstroke.

There were 12 minutes remaining when Scott Parker picked out Spector's intelligent run down the right channel. The American held off Dann's replacement David Murphy before pulling the ball back into the path of Cole.

While the striker's shot lacked power, it was on target and proved too hot to handle for England team-mate Foster, who allowed the ball to slide under his body and roll slowly over the line for a memorable winner.

Grant, who threw his claret and blue scarf into the crowd at full-time, was delighted with the application shown by his players.

"I am very happy with the players and they do like to play in the cup. They have been great in the league matches as well against Wolves, Everton and Fulham away but today, it was very hard, because we were with ten players for a long time.

"The spirit was great. It is not easy to play so many games in short time."

 Match Stats
  West Ham Birmingham
Goals : 2 1
Possession : 35% 65%
Shots On Target : 3 2
Shots Off Target : 5 4
Corners : 3 9
Fouls : 6 5
Most Fouls : Cole (1) Fahey (1)
Yellow Cards : 0 0
Red Cards :
Obinna 59
Scorers :
Noble 13
Cole 78
Ridgewell 56
 Team Line Ups :
Robert Green   
Julien Faubert   
James Tomkins   
Winston Reid   
Matthew Upson   
Jonathan Spector   
Freddie Sears 74
Mark Noble 90
Scott Parker   
Victor Obinna   
Frederic Piquionne 73
Substitutes :
Ruud Boffin   
Carlton Cole 73
Luis Boa Morte   
Radoslav Kovac 90
Frank Nouble   
Jordan Spence   
Zavon Hines 74
   Ben Foster
   Stephen Carr
46 Scott Dann
   Roger Johnson
   Liam Ridgewell
87 Sebastian Larsson
   Craig Gardner
83 Alexander Hleb
   Barry Ferguson
   Keith Fahey
   Cameron Jerome
   Maik Taylor
46 David Murphy
   Matt Derbyshire
87 Nikola Zigic
83 Jean Beausejour
   Jordon Mutch
   Martin Jiranek
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