Hammers slip further into relegation mire

Birmingham City 1 West Ham United 0 THESE are worrying times for the men of Upton Park. Missing Carlton Cole and Matty Upson they have become more than a team missing two players, they have become hardly a team at all, and the dreaded R word is becoming a

Birmingham City 1 West Ham United 0

THESE are worrying times for the men of Upton Park. Missing Carlton Cole and Matty Upson they have become more than a team missing two players, they have become hardly a team at all, and the dreaded R word is becoming a distinct possibility, writes DAVE EVANS.

Manager Gianfranco Zola is trying to keep things together, but it seems that the cracks are beginning to show, even for the usually happy Italian.

"The players I've got are fine and I'm not going to complain about that," he said defiantly after this dismal defeat, but he was having trouble even convincing himself.


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"Obviously, we are missing important people, but it's not in my nature to sit here and moan about what I haven't got. I have to make the most of what I have now."

So what does he have now? He has Guillermo Franco up front on his own, who is playing excellently, but is not an out and out striker.

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He has a player who only uses his right foot to stand on, playing on the right wing, and he has a youngster on the left wing.

In the middle of the park he has Scott Parker and seemingly two clones of the former England man. Mark Noble hustles and bustles, but is not playing with the freedom he had when he arrived in the team 100 games ago, while Radoslav Kovac doesn't play at all.

At the back there are two full backs who look badly exposed every time there is an attack down the flanks, while the central defenders are both running every which way to try and plug the gaps.

Goalkeeper Robert Green must look at the players in front of him and wonder how it all came to this.

But enough of the negatives, and there were many at St Andrew's on Saturday. On the positive side, West Ham created a whole host of chances and really should have got something from this game.

Alessandro Diamanti, thankfully starting for the first time since the defeat at Stoke City in October, could have won the game on his own had a couple of his many chances been an inch the other side of the post and bar.

The Italian does some odd things during a game, often makes the wrong decision, but there is no denying that he gives West Ham a spark and makes things happen, and with the Hammers so lacking in a cutting edge, he is an essential starter at the moment.

"Diamanti did okay, but I'm expecting Alessandro to do more," said Zola after the game. Perhaps if he played him behind or alongside Franco in the middle, he would be more effective.

Birmingham started this game the brighter and for half an hour there was only one team in it as West Ham constantly gave the ball away.

Green had to make a good save from Roger Johnson's flick as early as the fourth minute, while Sebastian Larsson headed straight at the keeper, Christian Benitez was denied as Green came out to meet him and Cameron Jerome headed over when he really should have done better.

It wasn't all one-way traffic by any means though. As the half wore on, West Ham finally grabbed a foothold in the game and Junior Stanislas stung Joe Hart's hands with a rasping 25-yard drive, Diamanti hit the side-netting after beating two defenders and then went close again from Franco's pass.

Franco himself had a shout for a penalty after being upended by Scott Dann, and Stanislas finished the half with another long-ranger that swerved in front of Hart.

The second half continued with chances at both ends, but after Diamanti had curled a shot just inches wide of the far post, it was Birming-ham who grabbed what would prove to be the winner.

And who else to score it, but former Hammer Lee Bowyer? Stanislas and Noble contrived to lose the ball in midfield and after Jerome and Benitez had moved the ball forward, it was slipped to the unmarked Bowyer in the box, who made no mistake from six yards. Where full back Herita Ilunga was at the time remains a mystery.

Birmingham had their best period at that stage. Jerome's shot was excellently saved one-handed by Green, while Liam Ridgwell somehow managed to miss from a couple of inches, though he may have been in an offside position almost on the goal-line!

Diamanti had another shot deflected just wide, while the introduction of Kieron Dyer almost paid instant dividends as he sprinted from halfway past two defenders, before curling a shot past Hart, but against the post.

It summed up West Ham's efforts on the day, but there was more to come. Noble was ridiculously sent off by referee Lee Mason for a second yellow card, and still the chances came.

Diamanti's free kick went over the bar by the width of a fag paper, Parker put in Franco, whose shot fell to Diamanti only for his effort to be blocked and then Jack Collison's free kick was headed off the line by Barry Ferguson.

An inch either side on any of them and the game takes a completely different complexion, as does the season for West Ham, though it could have been even worse when Faubert comically fell over to allow Jerome clean through, only for the striker to miss his golden gift.

"It's very important not to panic about being in the bottom three and we're certainly not panicking. We don't look like a team in panic and it's important to keep calm," said the boss.

"Did we deserve to get anything today?" he asked, presumably rhetorically. "I don't know, you tell me, but I thought we did.

"Whatever I say is pointless, but I just feel bad for the players because they're trying very hard and they certainly don't deserve this."

Alas, that is exactly what they do deserve. Fair play to them they are creating plenty of chances, but unless you have the players to take them, then you are always going to be in trouble, especially when you seem incapable of keeping a clean sheet.

Bring on Chelsea? Er, no thanks. How about four inches of snow covering the ground until Cole is fit enough to return.

Now that would be a nice Christmas present.

West Ham: Green, Faubert, Tomkins, Gabbidon, Ilunga (Nouble 83), Noble, Parker, Kovac (Collison 69), Stanislas (Dyer 69), Dia-manti, Franco. Unused subs: Kurucz, Da Costa, Payne.

Att: 28,203. Referee: Lee Mason (4).

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