West Ham 0 Birmingham 1: Nikola Zigic heads Blues out of relegation zone but Hammers rock bottom

06 February 2011 10:49
The future of Avram Grant was supposedly never in doubt last month when a swathe of reports linked Martin O'Neill to the West Ham manager's post.

But as the frustrated Hammers faithful filed out of Upton Park on Sunday, their side propping up the Barclays Premier League again, many were asking a simple question: how on earth is he still in the job?

Happy days: Nikola Zigic celebrates his goal with Roger Johnson and Craig Gardner

Taking co-chairman David Gold at his word, Grant's position was not even up for discussion at last month's board meeting. However, a home defeat by fellow strugglers Birmingham, on the day West Bromwich dispensed with Roberto Di Matteo's services, put the Israeli back under the microscope.

How have Grant's employers chosen to stick by him while the powerbrokers at Newcastle, Blackburn and Liverpool did not feel the same about Chris Hughton, Sam Allardyce or Roy Hodgson?

Battle: Robbie Keane clashes with Birmingham's Barry Ferguson

At least that trio, along with DiMatteo, are all on the market should the patience of Gold, DavidSullivan and vice-chairman Karren Brady finally run out.

Grantturned 56 on Sunday and what the Israeli would have wanted as a presentmore than anything would have been back-to-back league wins for thefirst time this season after the win at Blackpool.

'How could I celebrate?' said Grant of his birthday. 'It is cancelled. We didn't score and we didn't win. It is not happy birthday but it is not me that is important, it is the team.

Where's the ball gone? Cameron Jerome vies with West Ham duo Frederic Piquionne and West Ham Matthew Upson

'The disappointing thing is we lostto a team near us. Until now we have won these games. We take a fewsteps forward and one back and we need to learn from this. We deserveto stay up but we need to do it. We cannot lose games like this.'

Not a very happy birthday: Avram Grant watched his team lose again

Havingsurvived the axe, Grant was backed in the January transfer window andall four of his signings featured against Birmingham with Demba Ba's15-minute second-half cameo the most eye-catching.

Understandably,Robbie Keane, given his lack of action for Spurs, looked off the paceand could only blast his best chance over the bar.

Withdrawn for Ba, a muscle strain makes him a doubt for the Republic of Ireland's game with Wales in Dublin on Tuesday night.

Gary O'Neil, playing on the rightwing, rarely troubled Birmingham left back Liam Ridgewell, while WayneBridge's difficult start to life as a West Ham player continued, theManchester City loanee looking decent going forward but suspect indefence.

That said, although Bridge was atfault for allowing Nikola Zigic a free header at the back post to scoreBirmingham's goal, it is fair to say Wally Downes's defensive planwould not have been for the 6ft 8in Serb to be marked by a playeralmost a foot shorter.

The fourth meeting between these sides this season had none of the drama of the previous encounters.

West Ham shook off the blow of losing James Tomkins in the warm-up, his replacement Matthew Upson was called from the bench despite an achilles problem which restricted him to the first 45 minutes, to edge the opening half.

MATCH FACTS WEST HAM UNITED (4-4-1-1): Green 6; Jacobsen 6, Reid 6, Upson 6 (Da Costa 46min, 6), Bridge 5; O'Neil 6, Parker 6, Noble 6, Obinna 7; Keane 6 (Ba 76); Piquionne 6 (Cole 60, 6). Subs not used: Boffin, Kovac, Sears. Booked: Noble, Obinna, Da Costa.BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-4-2): Foster 6; Carr 6, Jiranek 7, Johnson 8, Ridgewell 6; Bentley 6, Gardner 6, Ferguson 6, Bowyer 7; Zigic 6, Jerome 5 (Larsson 57, 6). Subs not used: Doyle, Murphy, Phillips, Fahey, Beausejour, Davies. Booked: Foster.Star man: Roger JohnsonReferee: Chris Foy 6.Attendance: 32,927.

But a resolute Birmingham defence, superbly marshalled by Roger Johnson, were rarely troubled. A tame shot into the hands of Ben Foster from Frederic Piquionne was the best the home side could muster.

And as West Ham began to run out of ideas, Birmingham applied the tactics that had served them well in their previous three meetings.

A needless push by Mark Noble on David Bentley produced a freekick and the combination of Sebastian Larsson's delivery and Zigic's height allowed the Serb to head home from close range.

Remarkably, given Zigic's stature, Alex McLeish has had to work on toughening up the ?6million summer signing from Valencia.

But the Birmingham boss now feels Zigic can be a useful weapon. 'He's upped his game,' said McLeish, who described the win as 'huge'.

Johnson was more to the point about Zigic. 'With the size of him he should be smashing people,' said the Birmingham centre back.

 West Ham 0 Birmingham 1: All the action as it happened at Upton ParkGrant calls for West Ham unity and an end to Upton Park turbulenceEast End idol Noble still loves blowing bubbles for West HamMutch could follow Birmingham academy director out of St Andrew'sAll the latest West Ham news, features and opinionAll the latest Birmingham news, features and opinion

 Explore more:People: Robert Green, Robbie Keane, Lee Bowyer, Lars Jacobsen, Danny Gabbidon, Carlton Cole, Roger Johnson, Wayne Bridge, Liam Ridgewell, James Tomkins, Barry Ferguson, Alex McLeish, Ben Foster Places: Birmingham, Cardiff, United Kingdom

Source: Daily_Mail