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Birmingham City 1 West Ham United 0

Gianfranco Zola insisted that no one need panic about West Ham's return to the relegation zone, but among the many things the Italian has learned during his first 50 games as a Premier League manager is that bad times can get better.

This time last year his side were not exactly sitting pretty. Following one win in 12 matches, they entered the Christmas-new year programme just one point outside the bottom three. Yet four months later they were in serious contention to qualify for Europe.

The recovery began on Boxing Day with a 4-1 win at Portsmouth, who are due at Upton Park on 26 December this year. Zola, determinedly optimistic, will not let anyone persuade him that West Ham's current problems cannot also be reversed.

For that to come about, several things need to happen. First, Carlton Cole, his one high quality striker now that all hope for Dean Ashton has regrettably gone, must make a rapid recovery from his knee injury. As the star on top of Zola's Christmas tree formation here, Guillermo Franco offered scarcely a twinkle.

Secondly, Zola must pray that the club's future ownership does not become the subject of protracted wrangling. David Sullivan and David Gold, the former Birmingham owners whose interest in West Ham attracted predictable derision from the St Andrew's crowd, have tabled a £42m bid, part of which would supposedly fund an attempt to strengthen the squad next month.

But Zola remains positive. "I have more certainty that we'll find a solution than a worry that we won't," he said. "We're certainly not panicking about being in the bottom three."

He was able to smile, even, about paving the way for Saturday's defeat by allowing Lee Bowyer to leave West Ham for Birmingham last January. His second-half strike extended their run to seven games without defeat.

West Ham, who finished with 10 men after Mark Noble was booked twice in seven minutes, almost equalised through Kieron Dyer. His late shot hit a post, at which point Zola was probably accepting that his wait for better times has further to run.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Hart; Carr, R Johnson, Dann, Ridgewell; Larsson, Ferguson, Bowyer, McFadden (Phillips, 89); Jerome, Benitez (Fahey, 89). Substitutes not used: Maik Taylor (gk), McSheffrey, O'Shea, Carsley, Vignal.

West Ham United (4-2-3-1): Green; Faubert, Tomkins, Gabbidon, Ilunga (Nouble, 83); Parker, Kovac (Dyer, 68); Diamanti, Noble, Stanislas (Collison, 69); Franco. Substitutes not used: Kurucz (gk), Spector, Da Costa, Payne.

Referee: L Mason (Lancashire).

Booked: Birmingham City Ferguson, Ridgewell, R Johnson; West Ham Kovac, Diamanti, Collison, Noble.

Sent off: West Ham Noble (78).

Man of the match: Bowyer.

Source: Independent

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