Alan Curbishley admitted things "fizzled out for us" on Saturday after Birmingham City were able to earn a precious point in their fight for survival.
Although a victory in the next game away to Fulham on 23 February could well move West Ham United up to ninth and within touching distance of the top seven, recent fine form meant a 1-1 home draw left frustration as the overriding emotion. "After a promising start it fizzled out for us," said the manager, as he reflected on the way Freddie Ljungberg's early opener was cancelled out by James McFadden's penalty, which he felt was harshly awarded against Lucas Neill.
The manager also believed Lee Bowyer was unfortunate to receive a late red card for a challenge on Damien Johnson. "We have asked [the referee] to look at it and I think he will," Curbishley said. "Hopefully he will overturn it because when it happened I didn't think it was that serious. The referee on the spot sees it a little differently. If he is suspended it will be a bit tough."
Of the game itself, the manager said: "We started off OK. The expectation levels were on us. We got our goal but the penalty was really soft. I can't even see an arm around McFadden. I was really surprised when the referee gave it. We have seen it and we don't think it is a penalty at all. It knocked us a little bit. For the first half we created some little openings that perhaps we needed to take. We are really disappointed with the second. It fizzled out on us and I think both teams looked as they were never going to score.
"I have said to the players that the biggest disappointment for me is in recent weeks we have played Liverpool and Manchester City a couple of times and in those games we have passed it around and knocked it about. Our last two games have been very difficult - today I was expecting a bit more. We had one or two tired legs. It has been a tough week for some of them."
As well as Matthew Upson and Lucas Neill after big games for England and Australia, young midfielder Mark Noble also felt the effects of the international week after helping the Under-21s to a win and was a late withdrawal from the bench. "Mark Noble come back ever so tired and didn't train until yesterday. He went out in the warm-up and felt his hamstring a bit so we didn't want to take a risk with him."
Those that did play gave their all but the decisive goal was not forthcoming. "We are really disappointed with the second-half performance," Curbishley added, mindful that hopes were for a repeat of the 1-0 home win against Liverpool last time out at the Boleyn Ground rather than the 1-0 reverse at Wigan Athletic a week ago. "We set our fans up after the Liverpool game to go and get something at Wigan and today because we were playing teams down the bottom. We haven't gone and done it. We are a little bit frustrated."
It was not for the want of trying, with tactical changes in the second half to introduce Julien Faubert and then Henri Camara to add extra firepower alongside Dean Ashton, with Carlton Cole making way. "I took a decision to change it. I wanted to beef up the midfield first because Birmingham were getting on top of in there. I wanted to put Freddie in the hole because he was our most effective player today. I had to make a decision and I felt if a chance fell to Deano, he might take it."
One positive was that Faubert, who had been out with a slight calf strain, followed up his 90 minutes in Monday's friendly against Queen's Park Rangers with another run-out from the bench. Curbishley expects to have the France winger available going forward and he also took the opportunity to endorse Faubert's public commitment to the cause made on Friday, following previous reports in some quarters to the contrary. "As soon as he saw the situation, he came to see me and wanted to issue a statement on it."
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