Wednesday, January 12

Always believe in Carlton Cole!

West Ham 2 Birmingham 1 (Carling Cup)

Surely I’m too old to be feeling this nervous on the way to a game… calm, calm, calm… check my season ticket, hope the online purchase went through and remember my lucky 1970s away kit from the play-off final.

Fraser’s had another 5-1 won on the horses and is wearing his lucky red shoes (stolen from Elvis Costello) from the Man United game, while Matt is his lucky Dukla Prague away kit. Even Granty has remembered his lucky scarf.

It’s a shame to see some empty seats for a semi-final – surely the club could have given tickets away rather than not have a full house for what they claim is our most important home game in 30 years?

Upson plays as an emergency left-back while Reid retains his place at centre back. Cole’s on the bench and Spector plays alongside Parker and Noble.

We start well, buoyed by the atmosphere under the lights, peppering the Birmingham goal. Spector has an early shot beaten away. Noble makes a great run into the box after 13 minutes, Obinna heads back, there’s a bit of pinball, Spector hooks it across goal and Nobes thumps the ball home from an acute angle on the right and runs to the Chicken Run.

Victor Obinna cuts inside has a searing drive tipped wide by Foster and the Brum keeper makes a flying save from Tomkins header. Noble is having a great game, Piquionne is leading the line well and Spector is giving another fine display in midfield.

But typically we look a different team in the second half. “It’s like Grant has the anti-Midas touch,” suggests Matt.
Birmingham have been hairdryered. We sit back as Barry Ferguson bosses the midfield and Birmingham send in cross after cross. Sears fails to shoot first time and a rare Hammers chance comes to nothing. The Blues have a free header just wide. Freddie Sears clears a header off the line.

Eleven minutes in to the half Birmingham win a corner and Liam Ridgewell, our ex-Academy player, gets ahead of Reid to head home. Bugger.

The game turns on its head. Obinna flicks his boot into Larsson’s privates right in front of the linesman and he’s sent off. Crazy, although he played the balls.

“He’s just cost us a place at Wembley,” I complain.

The Fonz-like Fraser suggests that this is too pessimistic and that we’ll still win this. Is there a cooler person at Upton Park?

At least the fans remain buoyant, trying to raise the team with Bubbles and Claret and Blur Army.

Grant brings on Cole and Hines – a brave move suggesting he may have nothing to lose in what could be his last game. Birmingham have a strong claim for a penalty waved away as Upson pushes Ferguson in the box.

But what’s this? A rare Hammers attack. Parker finds Spector out on the right and the US’s answer to Lionel Messi plays in a low cross to Carlton Cole The hapless Carlton scuffs the tamest pf tame shots at Foster which he’s going to save easily and he’s already thinking about who he’s going to throw the ball out to when the keeper suddenly goes all jelly legged and becomes simply a lose collection of atoms through which the ball bobbles into the back of the net.

The home fans erupt in joy and laughter. Carlton runs to the East Stand. “That shot would have beaten any keeper!” I claim. Even Nigel celebrates, as he’s now becoming used to the less aesthetic goals we now bag.

What a substitution. Tactical brilliance from Grant.

“It was like Doctor Who, Carlton managed to upset the laws of time and space,” suggests Matt.

“Too shit for England!” and “England’s England’s number one!” chant the Bobby Moore Stand.

Robert Green must be laughing at that one. England’s true remains solid to emphasise the contrast with Birmingham’s dodgy keeper.

Our ten men dig in. The tension is too much for the Vicar’s Son as we concede endless free-kicks on the edge of the box. “That was ****ing terrible! Absolutely ****! How many ****ing free kicks must we give away?”

But we play it in the corners, Kovac comes on to waste some time, survive three minutes of injury time and the whistle blows with Bubbles on the PA and Jeremy Nicholas going a bit mental. We might even have saved Avram’s job.

On the way to the Black Lion Lisa suggests that we should have two managers. What a great idea. Avram for the cups and someone like Curbs for the league. Well, there’s been Curbishley and Gritt at Charlton and Houllier and Evans at Liverpool, but no-one has tried a proper job-share. Surely w should be the first?

Inside the pub I celebrate with Old Cocky ale (a reference to Foster perhaps?) and the philistines around me drink lager and Strongbow. Not even Young’s Kew ale can tempt Nigel.

We see the goal on Sky Sports News and come to the conclusion that Carlton is really a bit like the Shane Warne of football. A master of psychology he has bowled Foster exactly the sort of shot he didn’t expect and relied on his sense of over-confidence to send us into the second leg with a lead.

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