Monday 26 June 2017

Fighting talk from Grant as Hammers hit bottom

West Ham 0
Birmingham 1

Jeremy Wilson

After so long marooned at the bottom of the Premier League, during the past 15 months with both Portsmouth and West Ham, Avram Grant could have been forgiven for feeling a touch of vertigo over recent weeks.

Yesterday, though, normal service was resumed and, on their manager's 56th birthday, West Ham were sent back to the foot of the table. Their mini-revival since Christmas is yet to yield consecutive Premier League wins.

"The disappointing thing is that we lost to a team near us and it was a game of six points," Grant said. "We take a few steps forward and one back. We need to learn. We deserve to stay up but it will be a battle until the end."

The half-hearted booing on the final whistle seemed to convey a mood of resignation rather than anger, with a depressing afternoon compounded by injuries to James Tomkins, Matthew Upson and Robbie Keane (right).

Grant was vague on the severity of the injuries, although he did indicate that Keane would be withdrawn from the Republic of Ireland team due to face Wales on Tuesday.

Grant would have had questions for his defenders, after they again failed to contain Nikola Zigic -- following the Serbian forward's similarly influential display in the Carling Cup semi-final.

Predictably, Zigic's 65th-minute winner came from a set-piece and it was enough to lift Alex McLeish's team out of a congested relegation zone.

With only seven points separating the bottom 11 teams, McLeish predicted that 40 points might not be sufficient this season and is now looking to Zigic for further match-winning contributions.

"When he started, he was a little awkward and ungainly, but he worked hard at his game and became impossible at times for defenders to play. We're looking for him to use (Peter) Crouch as an example," he said.

Despite their initial dominance of possession, West Ham struggled to create clear chances.

Keane was marginally their most threatening player and, after collecting an incisive pass from Wayne Bridge, his quick thinking set up an opportunity from which Frederic Piquionne shot over.

Keane then impressively created his own space by wrong-footing Barry Ferguson, only to produce a similarly wasteful finish.

Scott Parker and Mark Noble also had first-half sights of goal from the edge of the penalty area, but were unable to trouble goalkeeper Ben Foster.

Birmingham re-emerged with far more purpose and Mark Noble conceded a free-kick with a late challenge on David Bentley.

Sebastian Larsson floated his free-kick to the far post and, with 5ft 10in Wayne Bridge marking Zigic, the outcome was a comfortable header past Robert Green.

The goal provoked a final flurry of West Ham pressure, with Senegalese international Demba Ba -- making his debut -- smashing a shot past Foster but against the post. (© The Daily Telegraph)

Irish Independent

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