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Jon Riley 10th Jan 2011 - 13:15

Can the Hammers take one step towards Wembley?

West Ham v Birmingham | Tuesday 19:45 | Live on BBC Two

Premier League strugglers West Ham and Birmingham can leave their league worries behind them for 90 minutes as they meet in the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-finals.

If the reports coming out of Upton Park are to be believed, then Hammers manager Avram Grant has this one game to save his job, with a board meeting scheduled in for Wednesday morning if his team fail to secure a first leg lead.

West Ham's league form seemed to be improving over Christmas and earned Grant a rest bite from the criticism but the team's capitulation at Newcastle seemed to intensify the calls for the manager to be sacked.

The Irons have found some sanctuary in the League Cup this season. Sunderland, Stoke and most recently Manchester United have all been knocked out of the competition by West Ham this season. The 4-0 victory over Man Utd was by far West Ham's best performance of a miserable season and the first time Sir Alex Ferguson's men had tasted defeat in any competition this season.

Birmingham are currently fifteenth in the Premier League table, disappointing when you consider how they flirted with the top six last season. Alex McLeish is under pressure, not as bad as his opponent Avram Grant, but under pressure nonetheless.

The Blues have eliminated three lower league teams en route to the quarter-finals before facing their bitter rivals Aston Villa. A late Nikola Zigic finish sparked pandemonium amongst the St Andrews crowd and meant that City progressed through to the semi-finals at the expense of Villa.

Birmingham's fans will be hoping that they can take a lead back to the Midlands and reach the Carling Cup final, exactly ten years since reaching the final at the Millennium Stadium.

The match betting for this first leg sees West Ham narrowly appointed as favourites at 6/5. Both Birmingham and the draw are priced at 9/4.

West Ham are also the favourites to make it to Wembley where the To Qualify market has Birmingham at 4/5 and West Ham at 10/11.

My recommendations for this game are for Frederic Piquionne, scorer in Saturday's victory over Barnsley in the FA Cup, to notch anytime here. The former Portsmouth striker can be backed at 6/4 to find the back of the net.

Another market I would be looking at is the Total Match Goals. Birmingham's attack has been far from potent this season and I can see both teams being more concerned with not losing the tie than actually having the desire to go out and win it. Under 2.5 goals is priced at 8/13.



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