The West Ham United fans thought it was funny to start mocking Birmingham City’s towering centre-forward Nikola Zigic.
“Does the circus know you’re here,” they jeered at the 6ft 8ins Serbian. But Zigic made the Hammers fans eat their words as he utilised his substantial frame to full effect, heading home a 61st-minute winner that lifted Birmingham out of the relegation zone and kept the Hammers at the foot of the table.
It is true that Zigic often looks like he would be more at home on the basketball court – but when he gets his timing right he can be unplayable in the air.
West Ham should know that better than most. It was only 10 days earlier that Zigic had inspired Birmingham’s Carling Cup semi-final second leg success over the Hammers when he came on as a substitute.
And yesterday, after a tame first-half performance, he rose to the occasion again.
After Mark Noble had given away a cheap foul, Sebastian Larsson floated over a cross towards the far post. Zigic read it beautifully, shook off the attentions of Manuel da Costa and Wayne Bridge then planted a bullet header beyond the reach of Robert Green.
Roger Johnson, Birmingham’s captain, who had been outstanding at centre-back, said: “There are times when Nikola doesn’t put himself about as much as he should. With his physical power he should be smashing into players and causing problems. We put that to him at half time and he reacted. ”
Alex McLeish, the manager, added: “After playing his football in Spain we have been working very hard on Nikola to add a physical side to his game.”
Once in front, Birmingham comfortably soaked up West Ham’s increasingly unimaginative pressure.
New recruit Robbie Keane looked lively early on but ran out steam. Demba Ba, another new arrival, came on late and rattled the post.
On a day fellow strugglers West Bromwich Albion sacked manager Roberto Di Matteo, it seems increasingly surprising Avram Grant continues to cling on to his job at West Ham.
Sam Allardyce – overlooked by West Ham as a potential new manager a few weeks ago – is rumoured to take over at West Brom, who are the Hammers’ next opponents.