The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Dy­lan Pick­er­ing

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.”

PIC­TURE: PA Im­ages

TUS­SLE: Birm­ing­ham’s Lukas Jutkiewicz bat­tles with West Ham’s An­gelo Og­bonna

GOAL: Ar­nau­tovic cel­e­brates scor­ing West Ham’s first with Nasri

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