West Ham strike late for promotion
Blackpool 1-2 West Ham
West Ham United returned to the Premier League at the first time of asking by beating Blackpool with a late goal in a pulsating Championship play-off final at Wembley.
A good touch and finish from Carlton Cole gave the Londoners the lead ten minutes before half-time, but Thomas Ince equalised in similar fashion just after the break.
Ricardo Vaz Te slammed home with four minutes remaining to make sure it was Sam Allardyce’s side were victors in the £90million pound game – the richest game in football.
Ian Holloway’s team put in a fantastic performance of passing football and both sides had plenty of chances to score, but it was the Hammers’ greater strength in the latter stages of the game that pushed over the line.
Stephen Dobbie had the first sniff of goal inside the first ten minutes when he got in behind Matt Taylor, but his fierce shot from a tight angle was deflected onto the near post by Rob Green.
It was a fast-paced game and the Seasiders were having the best of the early exchanges by virtue of holding on to possession more effectively, but neither team could pierce the other’s back four.
The breakthrough came in the 35th when the ball broke to Matt Taylor half-way inside the Blackpool half and the full-back delivered an exquisite ball to Carlton Cole.
The big striker brought it down perfectly to get away from Stephen Crainey and guided the bouncing ball past Matt Gilks in the Blackpool goal.
They could have doubled their lead just two minutes later, but Ricardo Vaz Te dragged his rushed shot past the post when put clean through by Jack Collison and with more time than he took.
The Hammers were happy to see out the game until half time after a short period of pressure following the game. They looked very comfortable holding off the Blackpool attacks and went in at the half calmly.
There was no such composure just a minute into the second half, however, when Thomas Ince got behind Taylor onto a brilliant pass from Matt Phillips before sliding the ball across Rob Green in the far corner.
It would have been a sweet feeling for Ince, who was being mercilessly booed by Hammers fans due to his father Paul’s unpopularity with the followers of his former club.
Allardyce’s side were rocking and should have been behind when Alex Baptiste got behind the back line following a neat scooped pass from Kevin Phillips, but the full-back hesitated and the chance was wasted.
Dobbie was the next man to beat the offside trap but Winston Reid smothered the ball well before the man on loan from Swansea could shoot.
Ricardo Vaz Te wasted another good opportunity just past the hour mark when Cole found him in the right channel of the area but his pull-back was poor and Taylor couldn’t get an effort on goal.
Holloway’s men then took a turn to waste a golden opportunity when Neal Eardley found acres of space on the right of the West Ham area, but his accurate low cross was miscued wide horribly by Dobbie.
Kevin Nolan thought he had got the winner with ten minutes to go but Gilks managed to tip the sweetly struck volley onto the crossbar.
The Hammers were having the best of the game in the final five minutes and were winning the vast majority of aerial duels in the Blackpool area.
Inevitably, the precious goal in the 87th minute when a low Nolan cross caused havoc in the Blackpool box and Cole showed great strength to lay the ball off for Vaz Te to slam into the roof of the net.
Blackpool players were protesting to referee Howard Webb but there was no infringement in the build up to the goal, Cole had just shown greater desire to carve out the opportunity.
It looked certain to be the winner but the Tangerine’s almost hit back immediately, but Dobbie couldn’t quite connect with a Crainey cross at the back post.
West Ham hearts were in mouths as they watched ball fly across the face of their goal with barely anyone getting a touch on it, but it looked like Blackpool’s chance had gone as the Hammers started to close the game out.
There were very late claims for a penalty on substitute Nouha Dicko, but the forward tumbled to easily and there was nothing doing.
The final whistle blew and the east Londoners in attendance were delirious as a frustrating campaign ended with the promotion so many of them feared might have been blown.
Preparations for Premier League football can begin but the West Ham staff and fans were concentrating on the celebrations with bubbles blowing.