West Ham v Birmingham City: Carling Cup preview

11 January 2011 12:01
Carlton Cole looks set to return to the West Ham team for Tuesday's Carling Cup semi-final first leg against Birmingham.

The England striker was one of several first-team players rested for the FA Cup win over Barnsley, so Scott Parker, centre-back Matthew Upson and forward Freddie Sears should also return.

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Thomas Hitzlsperger has returned to training after a long-term thigh problem and he could be back in action by mid-February, but Kieron Dyer (thigh) remains out.

Defiant West Ham manager Avram Grant insists his only concern is guiding the Hammers into the Carling Cup final. A recent upturn in fortunes on the pitch was marred by the 5-0 defeat at Newcastle, while Grant continues to find his own position making the headlines.

And while he was unimpressed that director Karren Brady revealed in her newspaper column why the club had pulled the plug on signing Steve Sidwell, the Israeli is not about to be distracted by reports of off-field issues at Upton Park.

"I have answered this a thousand times," Grant said when the subject was again the first question at Tuesday's press conference ahead of the semi-final with Birmingham.

"We are here because of the semi-final, it has been 30 years since West Ham were at Wembley and this is a big game for us. That is what is important for me now.

"I am dealing with the problems on the pitch, and we have done that well. We still have some, so I am trying to deal only with this.

"The results in the last few weeks show we are doing well, they can always be better, but we have been doing well. That is what we are concerned about.

"My position is very clear. I am the manager and need to do the best for the club."

Grant also rebuffed suggestions his future was set to be decided at a board meeting later this week.

"I have nothing to say about this because nobody has said anything to me about this," he added.

"I don't need to answer about things which are in the paper. We have a game tomorrow and that is what is important to me. If there is any personal issue, I speak to the person. I don't have to deal with it in the media. I have not done it before and don't need to do it now."

Birmingham will welcome back several key players. Barry Ferguson, skipper Stephen Carr, Ben Foster, Roger Johnson and Liam Ridgewell were all rested for the 4-1 FA Cup win at Millwall on Saturday.

Midfielder Sebastian Larsson is included in the squad despite being given permission to speak to Newcastle over a possible move. Striker Matt Derbyshire will be hoping his two goals at the New Den will bolster his chances of starting against Grant's side.
Midfielder Lee Bowyer will again be unavailable as he completes a three-match suspension.

Birmingham manager Alex McLeish wants to put a smile on the faces of the club's long-suffering fans by achieving a slice of the success he enjoyed north of the border with Rangers and Aberdeen.

City are one step away from reaching their first final for a decade. The tie will have added spice as it pitches City against their former owners David Sullivan and David Gold, now in charge of West Ham.

Birmingham have often lived in the shadows of local rivals Aston Villa, their opponents in Sunday's derby clash at St Andrew's, but McLeish will do all he can to ensure Blues are victorious by the time the return leg has been played in two weeks' time.

The former Scotland boss said: "It is a big challenge for us. The fans are craving a bit of success at this club. We will do our very best to put a smile on their faces.

"We will be facing our former owners and football throws up these quirky challenges. We will hopefully put one over on our old bosses.

"For me it would be nice to be the manager of a club in a major English final. I've had a lot of success in Scotland in cup finals, both as a player and as a manager, and it would be nice to get to an English cup final."

Source: DSG