Carrott and bitter stick for Avram as West Ham throw away a trip to Wembley

On a night when Jasper Carrott proved mightier than Russell Brand, all the jokes were all on Avram Grant.

Even in his brightest moods, West Ham's lugubrious manager may have a doleful expression like a wet weekend in Shoreditch, but Grant will take a long time to laugh again after the Hammers' dramatic collapse at St Andrews.

Once upon a time in the Midlands, he was sitting pretty and on course to repeat his notable double with Portsmouth last year - a cup final and relegation in the same season.

But not to put too fine a point on it, he blew it.

Birmingham 3-1 West Ham (4-3 agg): Gardner glory

West Ham should have been waltzing down Wembley Way next month in a haze of bubbles, jellied eels and cor blimey, such was their superiority for an hour.

The Hammers looked home and hosed when Carlton Cole, once from Birmingham's neighbouring claret-and-blue parish of St Lucifer, scored the marvellous goal which gave them a two-goal cushion on aggregate.

But when the Blues threw on Nikola Zigic, 6ft 9in of scaffolding, and launched high balls into the box more in hope than desperation, Grant's defence simply couldn't cope.

Matthew Upson, once a bluenose on the Midlands shop floor, went from the heartbeat of West Ham's unswerving resistance to the invisible man.

Robert Green, the lion of Rustenberg, left his worst nightmares on the African Veld and caught everything that moved until he ushered Craig Gardner's extra-time winner inside his right-hand post.

What a shame David Sullivan and David Gold, those two lions of the adult entertainment industry, did not see fit to take up their former club's invitation to tea and Ferrero Rochers in the boardroom.

Between them, Dave and Dave have missed many of the best moments of West Ham's tortured season.

Sullivan and his Russian cossack's hat were snowed in when the Hammers inflicted Manchester United's only defeat of the season in the quarter-finals.

And Gold was banned from the Hammers' 2-2 draw at Brum in the Premier League in November, one of their better away performances under Grant, for calling Birmingham chairman Peter Pannu "disgusting."

Dave and Dave would have been miffed to discover Pannu has removed a huge mural of the pair, celebrating the giddy triumph of winning the Auto Windscreens Shield at Wembley, from the foyer.

Now that the Blues are on the way to a money-spinning final, Dave and Dave might even have been serenaded, in the dulcet Brummie tones of Harry Enfield's permatanned comic sketch character, "Excuse me, sport, hope you don't mind me interrupting, but I couldn't help noticing that we appear to be considerably richer than yiaow."

And yet for an hour, West Ham's football was accomplished and superior. Brum's passing was slipshod and impoverished, and 48 years after their only major trophy - in the League Cup, following a two-legged final against provincial small-fry - it looked like being another 48 years for a silver lining.

How did you manage to throw away this winning hand, Avram?

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williamhill.com

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