Home » Latest, League Cup » Carling Cup Semi-Final Match Report: Birmingham 3 West Ham 1 agg 4-3

Keep right on to the end of the road? You bet. The road to Wembley. Birmingham City’s fans sang wildly as they reached the Carling Cup final and it was one of their own who guided them there.

Craig Gardner grew up watching Birmingham City from the terraces, dreaming of driving his home-town club to glory.on Wednesday night, amidst unbelievable scenes here, Gardner’s firm finish after 94 minutes drove his team to their first major Wembley final since 1956.

Gardner had almost settled the tie in normal time but was brilliantly denied by Robert Green. This was an extraordinary response from Birmingham. Alex McLeish’s men seemed down out when Carlton Cole scored a marvellous goal in the first half but Birmingham refused to go quietly.

West Ham were spooked by the loping Nikola Zigic, who created room for his team-mates. Lee Bowyer’s fine strike and Roger Johnson’s emphatic header levelled the tie on aggregate, bringing the extra half-hour to decide who would meet Arsenal at Wembley on Feb 27.

Sadly, all the drama on the pitch was played out to trouble outside, the police making 14 arrests in separating fans who had fought in the main car-park. Tension ruled all evening with riot police at times appearing.

Emotions ran high all night. Trailing 2-1 from the first leg, Birmingham had launched themselves into West Ham at speed from the first blast of Howard Webb’s whistle but the visitors swiftly responded.

Zavon Hines really should have scored when released down the inside-right channel by Mark Noble but he fired straight at Ben Foster.

West Ham were building, Scott Parker showing his experience in anchoring and Noble demonstrating his energy in taking the game to Birmingham.

Cole was stirring, beginning to move with far more purpose, looking a centre-forward of genuine of heavyweight substance. Too often Cole has been accused of floating like a bee and stoning like a butterfly. Not here. Not after 31 minutes.

Collecting Wayne Bridge’s throw-in 35 yards out, Cole should really have been closed down by Martin Jiranek, who was making a rare appearance in Birmingham’s defence. How the hosts missed the injured Scott Dann.

Jiranek failed to respond properly to the threat emanating from Cole. The striker swung his right boot venomously into the ball sending it racing past Foster. As West Ham’s players and fans celebrated wildly, Birmingham could reflect only on their failure to man the barricades properly.

This was a Hammer blow in ever sense. Dazed and reeling, McLeish’s men attempted to climb off the ropes. Derbyshire had an effort saved by Robert Green. West Ham’s keeper then comfortably held Seb Larsson’s free-kick after Noble had fouled Bowyer.

Back came Birmingham again, desperate to claw their way back into the tie. Bowyer, busy and booed, slipped a good pass to Jerome on the left and the centre-forward turned and assessed his options. Spotting Derbyshire darting into the box, Jerome clipped over a cross that Birmingham’s No 14 met with a downward header although badly wide. The miss embodied the problem with profligacy bedevilling Birmingham. No wonder they keep getting linked with every striker from Robbie Keane to Shola Ameobi.

West Ham’s cutting edge was sharper. When Noble whipped in a free-kick from the left, Hines somehow contorted his body to meet the ball with the deftest of flicks which eluded Foster but not the post.

His season descending into darkness, McLeish acted at the break, withdrawing the anonymous Derbyshire and introducing the towering, although not always overpowering, Nikola Zigic. The striker was swiftly involved, clearing a Parker corner.

Zigic was having an impact, soon knocking the ball down to Craig Gardner, whose magnificent shot hit one post, bounced past Green but flew across the goal and to safety.

Birmingham were now fired up, now believing in a comeback. Gardner pushed on. So did Liam Ridgewell. Barry Ferguson anchored otherwise it was Everyone of a blue persuasion screamed for a penalty when Bridge misread the ball’s flight, it hit his arm but Webb signalled a corner.

Their frustration did not last long. Birmingham made the corner count, Zigic becoming involved and suddenly there was Bowyer, connecting superbly, crashing the ball from right to left past Green.

St Andrew’s was now awash with emotions. Nerves ate into the visitors as hope rose in home hearts. Green stood firm as the siege intensified, emerging through a thicket of players to catch Larsson’s corner and then scramble to his right to push away Ferguson’s shot.

Birmingham kept battering against the Green door, finally breaking through again after 79 minutes. When Larsson swung over another corner, Johnson powered a header past Green.

Birmingham thought they had settled the tie in normal time when Jerome bustled through but Green saved well. Zigic may look ungainly, and his touch is below-par, but he certainly made a difference, totally bemusing West Ham’s defence, freeing up space for Jerome.

The riot police then arrived, patrolling the apron of the pitch. The tension grew on the pitch as Ferguson kicked Kieron Dyer, who reacted, leading to cautions all round as Webb sought to cool tempers.

Extra time was almost prevented when the excellent Gardner let fly but Green somehow diverted the ball onto a post. But then came Gardner, firing home four minutes into extra time. Parker and Dyer went close but Birmingham held on.

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