Bowyer fires Birmingham to victory over West Ham

Dec 12, 2009 - 6:52 PM By DANIEL ROSE STATS European Football Writer=

LONDON (SE) - West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola was left mystified by the crucial dismissal of Mark Noble as his team dropped into the Premier League bottom three after the 1-0 defeat at Birmingham.

Noble, who had been booked in the first half, was cautioned for a second time midway through the second half for tugging the shirt of Christian Benitez.

Angry Zola said: "It was at an important time in the game because we were playing well and looking like we might get an equaliser.

"I thought it was a very hard decision to send him off. It was totally unacceptable. There was nothing nasty about Mark's challenge, he was just going for the ball."

But without Noble, West Ham could not find their way through the Birmingham defence and with Wolverhampton winning 1-0 at Tottenham, fell third from bottom with only Bolton and Portsmouth below them.

Zola added: "I am sorry for my players because they are being punished for every mistake at the moment. That is what happens when you are struggling.

"The game was very equal, the players gave everything and I do not think we deserved to lose."

It was a bitter-sweet day for match-winner Lee Bowyer who supported West Ham as a boy and twice played for the club.

Bowyer notched his sixth goal of the season in the 52nd minute, running clear of the West Ham defence to beat the onrushing Robert Green.

Bowyer, whose family are West Ham supporters, noticeably did not join in the celebrations.

Green made good early saves from Roger Johnson and Liam Ridgewell before Bowyer scored his third goal in four matches.

West Ham refused to give up and long-term injury victim Kieron Dyer, on as a substitute, ran from the half-way line before driving a shot against the Birmingham post.

Allessandro Diamante saw his free kick go narrowly over the Birmingham bar but with five minutes left and West Ham committed to attack, Cameron Jerome broke clear but shot wide with only Green to beat.

Birmingham moved into eighth place to leave manager Alex McLeish a happy man.

"This is another match unbeaten and we have a nice little run going at the moment," said McLeish. "Once again we were solid in defence and strong in midfield.

"I don't think the sending-off made a big difference but I can understand West Ham's disappointment at the referee's decision.

"I would have liked us to create a little more and our strikers are not making the most of the chances we are creating.

"But I have to be pleased with the result. We are gaining in confidence all the time but no one is taking anything for granted."

McLeish singled out match-winner Bowyer for special praise, saying: "Lee has exceeded my expectations, and he had been given a new lease of life. He is enjoying himself, and we are getting the rewards on the field.

"It is difficult to put a price on what his goals are worth to us.

"He looks an absolute bargain now. When we signed him from West Ham, he had had a couple of injuries and was not playing regularly. Things were not right for him.

"But what would he be worth now? The goals he has got have been winning goals, and it is difficult to put a price on what they would be worth to us if we manage to stay in the Premier League."

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