MONK SALUTE AFTER BLUES TUMBLE OUT
BIRMINGHAM fell at the first hurdle in the Cup, but the scoreline was a little harsh on the Championship outfit.
In front of nearly 55,000 supporters, including a contingent of almost 5,000 away fans, the visitors were competitive for long periods, but failed to conjure up the decisive goal that would have set up a dramatic finish.
Maikel Kieftenbeld, Lukas Jutkiewicz, Gary Gardner and Wes Harding all went close, but the two moments of quality belonged to the Premier League side.
A goal in either half was enough to grant the Hammers victory, leaving Blues boss Garry Monk in a reflective mood.
He said: “We know the demands on this squad, we only had 18 fit players.
“We didn’t get the result we wanted but we threw everything we could at them. I can’t criticise the players at all.
“That was our fifth game in 14 days, but we competed so well.
“It was difficult circumstances, but we had our chances, we just didn’t have that cutting edge that we needed and you have to take your chances when you come to places like this.
“Credit to West Ham, they are a quality team but we wanted to show we can compete against a team a league above us and we did. So we are extremely proud of our players.”
Despite being preoccupied with a Championship play-off bid, Blues boss Monk clearly fancied a Cup run, making just one change to his starting XI.
Unfortunately it took less than two minutes for Marko Arnautovic to give the hosts the lead, reacting quickest to nod home after Angelo Ogbonna’s header was parried by Blues keeper Lee Camp.
However, Arnautovic’s afternoon ended after just 20 minutes when his number went up on the substitutes’ board.
Arnautovic may have picked up a slight knock, but he clearly felt it was not going to be a problem and wanted to continue. Without Arnautovic to worry about, Birmingham immediately began to show more ambition and finished the first half on top.
The visitors should have been level before the break but three chances were spurned in as many minutes.
First, Gary Gardner saw his shot blocked by Arthur Masuaku and, moments later, Lukas Jutkiewicz had a header cleared off the line by Arnautovic’s replacement, Andy Carroll.
Not long after that Michail Antonio cleared from underneath the bar with Gardner waiting to pounce, before Maikel Kieftenbeld fired wide.
After the interval, a fine cross from Wes Harding deserved better than Che Adams heading straight at Adrian, and that miss was to prove crucial, when, in stoppage time, former England striker Carroll got his reward when he headed in Antonio’s cross at the far post.
West Ham boss Manuel Pellegrini admitted Arnautovic was angry at being substituted. However, he said: “It’s not very important because we won the game and he scored a goal.
“He felt some pain in his back at the beginning, I thought that it was better to change him because he is just coming off another injury.”
TUSSLE: Birmingham’s Lukas Jutkiewicz battles with West Ham’s Angelo Ogbonna
GOAL: Arnautovic celebrates scoring West Ham’s first with Nasri