The 2,000-plus travelling fans at Birmingham stubbornly defied the fact that Bolton Wanderers' 2-1 home win over Middlesbrough had rendered Hammers' 2-2 draw academic by chanting 'We love you West Ham, we do' as the team in white shirts trooped, heads bowed, down the tunnel at that end of St Andrew's stadium.
They had stuck by their team all afternoon, urging them on to try and achieve a last day miracle that was ultimately beyond them. The loyal fans will stick by the club in the Nationwide League next season, too, but the big question they will all want an answer to in the coming weeks and months is will the players who lost their Premiership status hang around to try and reclaim it?
No one could have done more to extend Hammers' 10-year stay in the top flight than Trevor Brooking, the caretaker manager who has guided his team to two wins and a draw since being asked to take over from Glenn Roeder at the end of April. He started this day of reckoning with the same line-up that had defeated Chelsea at Upton Park last time out, which meant three forwards and sustained pressure. He had no choice but to approach this high stakes game in this way.
West Ham went on the attack from the start but their faint hopes of emerging successfully from a tense afternoon were shattered by events at The Reebok, where Bolton stormed into a two-goal lead in 20 minutes, thanks to goals by Per Frandsen and Jay-Jay Okocha. Bolton had only to match Hammers' result here to ensure their survival and with the Birmingham crowd reacting to the bad news from the north-west, it soon seemed to filter through to the West Ham players, who lacked spark in the first half.
There was a much more positive and tenacious edge to West Ham's performance after the interval and, in the space of five minutes, goals at Bolton and Birmingham turned up the heat in the relegation battle.
West Ham fans, glued to their radios, were given renewed hope when they heard that Michael Ricketts had reduced Boro's deficit against his former club. And after dominating the opening period of the second half, Hammers finally got their reward for creating a succession of good chances that they couldn't previously finish.
Once again driven on by outstanding skipper Joe Cole in central midfield, they could have been three of four goals in front before Les Ferdinand gave Hammers the lead midway through the half.
Ferdinand, who had earlier seen a point blank effort brilliantly saved by Blues' keeper Ian Bennett, gave him no chance with a close range header following Cole's cross from the left.
Fredi Kanoute was very unlucky not to pile further pressure onto Sam Allardyce and his Bolton players when he thundered a left-foot volley against the post, soon after Matthew Upson had struck the other post in trying to clear Trevor Sinclair's downward header.
But in trying to sustain wave after wave of attack, West Ham left themselves vulnerable to the counter attack and they paid the price when Bryan Hughes was allowed to run unchallenged towards the edge of the penalty area, where he released Geoff Horsfield, who appeared to be denied by the sliding challenge of Brevett. However, the Hammers left-back only succeeded in diverting the ball against the Blues forward and then watched it loop up and over James into the net.
Hammers' hearts sank with Horsfield's equaliser and by the time Stern John put Blues ahead with a half-volley, the visiting players and fans were sadly resigned to their fate. Paolo Di Canio's headed equaliser - almost certainly his last contribution in a turbulent four-and-a-half years at the club - almost went unnoticed as the seconds ticked away at Bolton, where referee Rob Styles' whistle called time on Hammers' Premiership survival hopes.
Now the inquest beginsâ€¦
By Tony McDonald
3 - After an understandably frantic start, Brevett's deep free-kick is nodded on by Ferdinand, but Bennett gets to the ball before Kanoute can pounce.
9 - An excellent early chance for the Hammers goes begging. Ferdinand does well to collect a long ball from Brevett and then splits the defence with a pass to release Defoe. The young striker bares down on Bennett but, rather than shoot with his left-foot, elects to switch to his right and is forced away from goal before seeing his delayed shot blocked by the Blues keeper. Lomas then fires the rebound high over the bar.
14 - After Kanoute clears a Birmingham corner, Cole breaks away and shrugs off the challenge of Savage before shooting over from the edge of the penalty area.
20 - Damien Johnson's cross to the far post is met by Dugarry, whose left-foot volley is thankfully blocked by Glen Johnson.
27 - Brevett booked for foul on Johnson.
31 - Kanoute's flick-on bounces kindly for Ferdinand 20 yards out, but the veteran striker blasts his volley high and wide.
34 - After Ferdinand is fouled some 25 yards out, Defoe's free-kick is heading for the top corner until Kenna races back and heads it up and over.
40 - Cole's stinging shot from the edge of the area is only parried by Bennett, but none of the strikers are quick enough to follow-up.
44 - Glen Johnson does superbly on the right to beat two men with a delightful piece of skill and then drills an inviting ball across the face of goal. Again, though, none of the Hammers' front three are alert and the chance goes begging.
Added time: 2 minutes
45 - Lazaridis' cross is met by Horsfield, whose header is destined for the bottom corner until James throws himself across to magnificently keep the ball out.
Half-time: Birmingham City 0 West Ham United 0.
51 - Brevett's cross to the far post is nodded back across goal by Ferdinand, but Kanoute doesn't read the situation and Purse clears off the line.
52 - Hammers are left amazed as a glorious opportunity is missed. Johnson's intelligent low cross is missed by Purse and drops perfectly for Ferdinand, unmarked six yards out with the goal at his mercy. Somehow, though, Bennett blocks the point-blank effort and sees the ball spin over the bar for a corner, much to the dismay of everyone in claret and blue.
53 - Birmingham break at the other end and Dugarry is released down the left-hand channel. James manages to get a hand to the effort but it is still heading goalwards until Dailly hacks clear off the line.
59 - Sinclair plays a clever one-two with Kanoute and finds a yard of space in the area, but his shot is blocked by Upson.
63 - Substitution for Birmingham City, John replaces Dugarry.
64 - Another amazing let-off for Birmingham, as Kanoute's cross from the right is met by Sinclair, whose header appears to be in until Upson gets his boot to the ball on the line and diverts it against the crossbar and out to safety.
66 - GOAL! Hammers finally get the breakthrough they have been threatening, as a corner from the right is cleared out to the left, where Cole collects and curls in a delightful cross that reaches the unmarked Ferdinand, who heads in from six yards out to the delight of the travelling supporters behind the goal. Birmingham City 0 West Ham United 1.
73 - Double substitution for Birmingham City, Devlin replaces Kenna and Hughes replaces Lazaridis.
77 - Another close call for Hammers, as Cole picks up a loose ball and chips a pass to the left hand side of the penalty area, where Kanoute is waiting to instinctively fire a blistering left-foot that crashes off the post and back into play before a Birmingham defender clears.
80 - GOAL. Against the run of play, Birmingham agonisingly claim an equaliser. Hughes' pass releases Horsfield and, as Brevett gets across to tackle, he inadvertently slices the ball over James and into the net. Birmingham City 1 West Ham United 1.
80 - Savage booked for ungentlemanly conduct.
81 - Substitution for West Ham, Di Canio replaces Brevett.
87 - Substitution for West Ham, Hutchison replaces Cole.
88 - GOAL. Disaster for Hammers, as Birmingham break again and take the lead. Savage's cross from the right is met by John, who fires in off the crossbar to all but end our Premiership status. Birmingham City 2 West Ham United 1.
89 - GOAL! Another lifeline, as Hammers grab an instant equaliser. Defoe skips down the right and clips a cross to the far post, where Di Canio heads in from eight yards out.
Full-time: Birmingham City 2 West Ham United 2.