Custom Search 1

West Ham get the FA Cup job done against Birmingham

EARLY STRIKE: Marko Arnautovic

WEST HAM took an early lead in this third round FA Cup tie but were unable to relax until Andy Carroll made the result safe in second-half injury time.

By the time Carroll rose to head Robert Snodgrass’ cross beyond Lee Camp on a chilly afternoon in east London, the Birmingham City resistance was beginning to wilt despite a determined effort in the wake of Marko Arnautovic’s early opener.

This was a match bookended by two headed goals. The first arrived as early as the second minute when Angelo Ogbonna headed Brady Diagana’s outswinging corner downwards in the direction of the Birmingham goal. Camp could only parry the ball into the path of the lurking Arnautovic, who made no mistake from point blank range.

It set the tone for the opening stages, which West Ham dominated and could have held reasonable expectations of extending their lead. Manuel Pellegrini named a strong side, including Samir Nasri, making his debut, and Portuguese youngster Xande Silva, making his first start. Both acquitted themselves well in an attack that was mobile and fluid.

Silva exhudes the promise of youth, while the hope in east London is that Nasri will prove a more useful senior signing than Patrice Evra, who arrived on a free transfer last January and made just five appearances for what was then David Moyes’ side. Nasri made away for Snodgrass before the hour mark and was clearly short of match fitness after his first start since November 2017 following a doping ban.

The first doubts that West Ham would have everything their own way came with Arnautovic’s removal on 21 minutes with a suspected back injury. For all his discomfort the Austrian was not pleased and made a beeline for the tunnel.

Carroll arrived in his stead and despite an impressive header that sealed the deal, West Ham rarely look as dangerous or charge forward with the same speed as they do when Arnautovic leads the line. Nevertheless, if Carroll is Pellegrini’s Plan B then it ultimately paid off, as the forward atoned for his earlier errors to claim his first goal since April.

The relief around the London Stadium at that point was palpable because West Ham’s stranglehold on this game was not firm. At the other end Birmingham, currently eighth in the Championship, were left to rue a series of missed opportunities that might have been tucked away with better finishing. There was an admirable solidity to Garry Monk’s team but they were unable to find a cutting edge at the other end and it was to prove costly. The biting restrictions they face in transfer market will likely hinder what could otherwise be a creditable promotion push this season.

The City threat was persistent but Pellegrini brought on both Snodgrass, who provided the cross for Carroll’s clincher, and Felipe Anderson as West Ham looked to put the game beyond their opponents.

Chances followed at both ends but it was West Ham, with their greater precision, who prevailed.

Read every story in our hardcopy newspaper for free by downloading the app.

Facebook Comments