120 minutes of difficult football for the right to
lose to play against Arsenal in the Carling Cup final? Sounds like just what the doctor ordered for two relegation-threatened teams in Birmingham City and West Ham United. West Ham came into the match with a 2-1 lead after winning the first leg at Upton Park, and looked as though they'd canter to a victory after Carlton Cole put the Hammers ahead in the 31st minute.
The home side, however, had other ideas, and Lee Bowyer pulled one back before Roger Johnson leveled the tie on aggregate 3-3 after powering home a Sebastian Larrson corner. Birmingham would have gone through in regular time if not for a stunning save by Rob Green, who somehow deflected a long range shot by Craig Gardner onto the post right at the death. Extra time beckoned, and so did riot police, who are becoming something of a staple at St. Andrews in the Carling Cup.
Rob Green may have stopped Gardner once, but he wasn't about to do it again, and when he spilled the midfielder's shot into the net in the first few minutes of extra time I don't think anyone saw a way for West ham to get back into the match down 4-3, even though a goal would have won the tie for them. For the next twenty minutes, the visitors hurled themselves at Ben Foster's goal, but never got particularly close to scoring - Cole's shot off a corner, denied by Foster on the line, was about as good as it got.
By the end of the second half of extra time, Birmingham were in total control, and David Murphy should have wrapped things up in the 118th minute after being set through one-on-one with Green with several ice age's worth of time to pick his spot. Unless he was aiming at Green's face (and what Englishman wouldn't be tempted by that option?), he didn't hit it.
With seconds to go, striker Cameron Jerome was somehow not sent off for first stamping on poor Paul Tomkins and then kicking the defender while down for good measure - these offences amounted to a Birmingham throw in, according to Howard Webb, and the ball stayed in the West Ham half for the remainder of the match. Birmingham City are going to Wembley after a thoroughly entralling semifinal.
They're still probably not beating Arsenal, though.