West Ham 2 Birmingham 0

westham.jpgThe temperature may have been close to freezing but a warm front swept across Upton Park last night.

West Ham's 2-0 win over Birmingham, thanks to goals from Alessandro Diamanti and Carlton Cole, saw them climb to 14th in the Premier League and gave fans hope of avoiding relegation this season.

Gianfranco Zola made several changes to the side that lost at Burnley last Saturday, including starting Egyptian striker Mido alongside Carlton Cole and was rewarded with a performance full of passion, commitment and character.

It was also a fine response from the manager to the implied criticism levelled at him by chairman David Sullivan earlier in the week that he was too nice for the job - and his players responded in style.

West Ham looked the livelier side from the first whistle and took the game to the visitors throughout, with Cole, Scott Parker and the effervescent Alessandro Diamanti to the fore.

Cole was presented with an opportunity in just the third minute when Diamanti cleverly played him in, only for the linesman to incorrectly raise an offside flag.

But it served notice of the problems the England striker was going to pose the City back four all evening with his powerful running and good link up play.

Birmingham are a well-organised outfit and the Hammers, for all their possession, found it hard to break them down.

Too often promising attacks foundered on the twin rocks of Scott Dann and Roger Johnson, and then there was always the danger the Irons would be caught on the break, especially with the electrifying pace of Cameron Jerome.

City keeper Joe Hart was called into action when Diamanti unleashed a ferocious shot from a Cole lay-off which the young stopped palmed over the bar.

Just after the half-hour mark Cole turned well in the box and fired a cross-shot narrowly wide, giving his side renewed hope of taking the lead.

That hope became a reality on the stroke of half-time when Diamanti converted a free-kick from just outside the box.

Parker was brought down clumsily by Dann as he stormed forward and Diamanti made no mistake as he curled a delightful shot over the wall and into the top corner.

The elation of the players was palpable, with Diamanti racing across the pitch to embrace the embattled Zola before being mobbed by his team-mates.

The Irons made a change at half-time with Jon Spector coming on for the injured Herita Ilunga.

Diamanti should have doubled the Hammers advantage but blazed a shot well over after being played in by Cole, and there was always the worry that Birmingham would haul themselves back into the game unless the Irons added to their tally.

To their relief the second goal duly arrived on 67 minutes.

Valon Behrami played Julien Faubert in down the right wing and the full back got to the byline before crossing for Cole to nod home from three yards out.

It was just reward for the big forward, and also demonstrated why Faubert - too often a disappointment in a West Ham shirt - needs to have more confidence in his attacking game.

It was then a case of closing out the game for the Hammers, and with Birmingham slowly running out of steam, that task became easier.

A welcome three points for the Irons, and for Scott Parker, it was a relief to get back to winning ways.

He said: "It was obviously a must-win game for us. At times it wasn't pretty but the crucial thing was we won the game. The first team that scored was going to prove crucial and it did.

"There have definitely been times this season when we have been unlucky but how many times can you say that. We have had injuries but that's not really an excuse - we need to win games.

"We've got a squad that should be pushing up the league and if you pick up a result and then you pick up another one all of a sudden things happen for you.

"Of late, we've not picked up results when we should have and that's killed us a little bit."

West Ham: Green, Faubert, Ilunga (Spector, 46), Tomkins, Upson, Kovac, Parker (Noble, 86), Behrami, Diamanti, Mido (Ilan, 65), Cole. Unused subs: Stech, Da Costa, Collison, Stanislas.

Booked: Upson

Goals: Diamanti 45 + 1, Cole 67

Birmingham City: Hart, Carr, Ridgewell, Dann, Johnson, Fahey (McFadden, 67), Bowyer (Michel, 77), Ferguson, Gardner, Phillips, Jerome. Unused subs: Taylor, Larsson, Parnaby, Vignal, Jervis.

Booked: Bowyer

Attendance: 34,458

Referee: Mike Dean