Jack Collison scored twice to give West Ham control of their Championship play-off semi-final after the first leg at Cardiff City.
The Welsh midfielder followed up his own shot to head home after good work from Ricardo Vaz Te on the left.
Collison then heaped further misery on his countrymen when his shot took a wicked deflection into the Cardiff net.
Kenny Miller missed a series of half-chances for Cardiff, while Ben Turner had a header cleared off the line.
Though Cardiff won 1-0 at Upton Park on the opening day of the season, Malky Mackay will need to rally his players to produce a much better performance in the return leg on Monday if the Bluebirds are to avoid a fourth play-off disappointment in as many seasons.
"It's very difficult to make a case for Cardiff [to turn the tie around] on this evidence. It's not like they've peppered the goal or had chance after chance. West Ham have been thoroughly professional."
Sam Allardyce's Hammers were expected to claim one of the automatic promotion places and return to the Premier League at the first time of asking, only to be pipped by Reading and Southampton.
But United have now taken a huge step towards remedying that disappointment and are overwhelming favourites to claim a Wembley final date against Blackpool or Birmingham.
Cardiff nearly drew first blood when Peter Whittingham's shot was deflected just over the bar, then Miller drew a fine save from Robert Green in the West Ham goal.
But it was the Hammers who took the lead when Vaz Te broke the offside trap on the left before pulling the ball back for Collison, who had his initial effort parried by David Marshall but was able to nod the rebound into the net.
That setback in the ninth minute seemed to rattle the Bluebirds, who were lucky not to concede a second soon after.
First Liam Lawrence dawdled in the area, allowing Vaz Te to dispossess him but he was unable to get a shot away, then James Tomkins was allowed a free header at the back post that went just wide.
Slowly the home side regained their composure and Miller went close again, bending his shot just the wrong side of Green's left-hand post as the home side caught West Ham on the break.
But the visitors were also showing themselves adept at turning defence into attack and Turner had to be alert to deny Carlton Cole after Mark Hudson lost possession in the middle of the park.
From the resulting corner, Vaz Te flicked on at the near post and, although Turner cleared the initial danger, the ball fell perfectly for Collison to fire in for West Ham's second, although his shot took a wicked deflection off Lawrence.
The hosts had chances to reduce the deficit early in the second half, with Miller unable to control Lawrence's raking crossfield pass when through on Green's goal and Turner seeing his looping header cleared off the line by Cole.
West Ham were still creating the better opportunities, though, and Kevin Nolan should have put the tie beyond Cardiff but headed wide from 10 yards at the near post.
Miller was replaced by Rob Earnshaw, who fired an ambitious volley high and wide. Another volley, this time from Joe Mason, also skewed wide of goal as Turner continued to trouble the West Ham defence at set-pieces.
But the Hammers held firm under some intense late pressure and carry a precious two-goal advantage back to Upton Park for Monday's return.
- 01 Marshall
- 03 Taylor
- 05 Hudson
- 25 Turner
- 07 Whittingham
- 08 Cowie (McPhail - 74' )
- 13 Lawrence
- 17 Gunnarsson
- 23 Blake
- 09 Miller (Earnshaw - 74' )
- 20 Mason
- 22 Heaton
- 06 Gerrard
- 04 Kiss
- 37 McPhail
- 10 Earnshaw
West Ham United
- 01 Green
- 02 Reid
- 05 Tomkins Booked
- 20 Demel (Faubert - 75' Booked )
- 04 Nolan Booked
- 10 Collison (Maynard - 86' )
- 14 Taylor
- 16 Noble Booked
- 32 O'Neil
- 09 Cole
- 12 Vaz Te (McCartney - 60' )
- 13 Henderson
- 03 McCartney
- 15 Faye
- 18 Faubert
- 08 Maynard
Live Text Commentary
Full Time The referee signals the end of the game.90:00 +4:52
Nicky Maynard produces a cross.90:00 +3:45
Matthew Taylor decides to take a short corner.87:09
Stephen McPhail takes the direct free kick.87:09 Booking
Booking Julien Faubert is given a yellow card.87:02
Julien Faubert challenges Aron Gunnarsson unfairly and gives away a free kick.86:50
The ball is sent over by Carlton Cole.85:29 Substitution
Substitution Nicky Maynard on for Jack Collison.84:50
Inswinging corner taken by Peter Whittingham from the right by-line, Shot from close range by Joe Mason clears the bar.84:44
Darcy Blake produces a cross, clearance by George McCartney.83:20
Jack Collison is caught offside. Indirect free kick taken by David Marshall.82:58
A cross is delivered by Carlton Cole.82:01
Aron Gunnarsson has an effort at goal from outside the penalty box missing to the wide right of the target.80:18
Inswinging corner taken by Mark Noble.80:01
Shot from 25 yards by Gary O'Neil. Stephen McPhail gets a block in.79:29
Inswinging corner taken left-footed by Matthew Taylor, clearance made by Mark Hudson. Jack Collison sends in a cross, clearance made by Ben Turner.79:17
Mark Noble takes the chance to get an effort at goal. Ben Turner gets a block in.79:14
Matthew Taylor delivers the ball.77:49
Effort from the edge of the area by Robert Earnshaw goes wide of the right-hand upright.77:41
Centre by Aron Gunnarsson, clearance by Winston Reid.
A cross is delivered by Jack Collison, David Marshall makes a save.75:44
Matthew Taylor produces a cross.74:06 Substitution
Substitution Julien Faubert on for Guy Demel.73:53 Substitution
Substitution Robert Earnshaw joins the action as a substitute, replacing Kenny Miller.73:35 Substitution
Substitution Stephen McPhail joins the action as a substitute, replacing Don Cowie.73:13
Aron Gunnarsson produces a cross, Headed effort from deep inside the area by Mark Hudson misses to the left of the goal.71:57
Matthew Taylor produces a cross, Close range headed effort by Kevin Nolan goes wide of the left-hand upright.70:58
The referee blows for offside. Indirect free kick taken by Robert Green.69:28
Foul by Darcy Blake on Matthew Taylor, free kick awarded. The ball is delivered by Mark Noble, Kevin Nolan takes a shot. Save by David Marshall.68:52
Joe Mason concedes a free kick for a foul on Winston Reid. Direct free kick taken by Robert Green.66:22
Free kick awarded for a foul by Jack Collison on Andrew Taylor. David Marshall takes the free kick.66:14
Jack Collison produces a cross, Mark Hudson manages to make a clearance.64:36
Liam Lawrence is penalised for handball and concedes a free kick. Winston Reid restarts play with the free kick.63:24
Free kick taken by David Marshall.63:24 Booking
Booking Kevin Nolan is booked.63:13
Kevin Nolan challenges David Marshall unfairly and gives away a free kick.62:10
Gary O'Neil fouled by Kenny Miller, the ref awards a free kick. Mark Noble restarts play with the free kick.61:33
Shot from deep inside the area by Kenny Miller clears the bar.61:14
Direct free kick taken by Peter Whittingham.61:14 Booking
Booking Mark Noble is booked.61:00
Free kick awarded for a foul by Mark Noble on Peter Whittingham.59:58 Substitution
Substitution George McCartney comes on in place of Ricardo Vaz Te.58:48
Corner from the left by-line taken by Mark Noble, clearance made by Ben Turner.57:07
The official flags Jack Collison offside. Free kick taken by David Marshall.56:37
Joe Mason challenges Winston Reid unfairly and gives away a free kick. Matthew Taylor takes the direct free kick.56:01
Unfair challenge on Mark Noble by Joe Mason results in a free kick. Free kick taken by Robert Green.55:10
Aron Gunnarsson fouled by Winston Reid, the ref awards a free kick. Peter Whittingham restarts play with the free kick.54:27 Booking
Booking James Tomkins goes into the referee's book for dissent.53:32
Corner from the right by-line taken by Peter Whittingham, Mark Hudson takes a shot. Carlton Cole gets a block in.53:23
The ball is crossed by Joe Mason, blocked by Matthew Taylor.52:50
The referee blows for offside. David Marshall takes the indirect free kick.51:22
The ball is delivered by Carlton Cole, David Marshall makes a save.50:38
Ben Turner crosses the ball.50:31
The ball is swung over by Peter Whittingham, Jack Collison manages to make a clearance.50:20
The ball is crossed by Aron Gunnarsson, Ricardo Vaz Te makes a clearance.49:24
The ball is crossed by Darcy Blake, clearance made by Guy Demel.49:05
Free kick awarded for a foul by James Tomkins on Liam Lawrence. Free kick taken by Peter Whittingham.48:16
Mark Noble takes a inswinging corner from the left by-line played to the near post, Peter Whittingham makes a clearance.47:30
The assistant referee flags for offside against Liam Lawrence. Robert Green takes the indirect free kick.46:53
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Liam Lawrence by Ricardo Vaz Te. Mark Hudson restarts play with the free kick.45:51
Peter Whittingham has an effort at goal from outside the area missing to the wide right of the target.45:47
Liam Lawrence crosses the ball, clearance by James Tomkins.45:01
The referee starts the second half.45:00 +1:19 Half time
Half Time The ref blows to end the first period.44:59
James Tomkins has a headed effort at goal from deep inside the area missing to the left of the target.44:39
Corner taken by Matthew Taylor, save made by David Marshall.44:16
Centre by Gary O'Neil, Carlton Cole takes a shot. Save made by David Marshall.43:21
Ben Turner concedes a free kick for a foul on Kevin Nolan. Robert Green restarts play with the free kick.42:31
Foul by Mark Noble on Don Cowie, free kick awarded. Liam Lawrence restarts play with the free kick.40:27 Goal scored
Goal! - Jack Collison - Cardiff 0 - 2 West Ham Jack Collison grabs a goal from just outside the area to the bottom right corner of the goal. Cardiff 0-2 West Ham.39:47
Mark Noble takes a inswinging corner to the near post.37:50
The assistant referee flags for offside against Jack Collison. Peter Whittingham restarts play with the free kick.36:23
The ball is crossed by Joe Mason, Aron Gunnarsson gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on James Tomkins. Robert Green restarts play with the free kick.34:26
Kenny Miller produces a right-footed shot from just outside the box that goes wide right of the target.33:58
Centre by Andrew Taylor.31:04
Guy Demel produces a cross, Darcy Blake fouled by Ricardo Vaz Te, the ref awards a free kick. Free kick taken by David Marshall.30:44
The ball is swung over by Matthew Taylor.30:37
The ball is delivered by Guy Demel.28:32
Kevin Nolan is caught offside. David Marshall takes the indirect free kick.28:07
Ben Turner concedes a free kick for a foul on Carlton Cole. Mark Noble takes the free kick.27:27
The referee blows for offside against Guy Demel. David Marshall takes the indirect free kick.24:35
Guy Demel produces a cross, Kevin Nolan challenges Mark Hudson unfairly and gives away a free kick. Direct free kick taken by David Marshall.24:14
Inswinging corner taken right-footed by Mark Noble, clearance by Ben Turner.24:07
The ball is delivered by Kevin Nolan, blocked by Mark Hudson.22:02
Andrew Taylor fouled by Jack Collison, the ref awards a free kick. Peter Whittingham restarts play with the free kick.21:04
Darcy Blake concedes a free kick for a foul on Carlton Cole. Direct free kick taken by Matthew Taylor.19:08
Carlton Cole gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Ben Turner. Free kick taken by David Marshall.18:35
Free kick awarded for a foul by Kenny Miller on Mark Noble. James Tomkins restarts play with the free kick.18:19
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Mark Hudson by Carlton Cole. Aron Gunnarsson takes the free kick.17:56
Peter Whittingham gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Gary O'Neil. Robert Green takes the free kick.17:02
Matthew Taylor crosses the ball, Header from close in by James Tomkins misses to the left of the goal.16:33
Matthew Taylor takes a inswinging corner from the right by-line to the near post, Don Cowie makes a clearance.16:05
The ball is crossed by Carlton Cole.15:38
Matthew Taylor crosses the ball.13:42
Peter Whittingham takes a inswinging corner to the near post, clearance made by Winston Reid.13:37
The ball is delivered by Liam Lawrence, Winston Reid manages to make a clearance.13:05
Carlton Cole concedes a free kick for a foul on Darcy Blake. Free kick taken by David Marshall.10:41
Gary O'Neil takes a shot. Save by David Marshall.9:17
A cross is delivered by Liam Lawrence.8:19
The assist for the goal came from Ricardo Vaz Te.8:19 Goal scored
Goal! - Jack Collison - Cardiff 0 - 1 West Ham Jack Collison finds the net with a headed goal from close in. Cardiff 0-1 West Ham.7:58
Ricardo Vaz Te crosses the ball, Jack Collison has a volleyed shot. Save made by David Marshall.7:04
Foul by Liam Lawrence on Matthew Taylor, free kick awarded. Robert Green takes the direct free kick.6:29
Jack Collison gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Andrew Taylor. David Marshall takes the direct free kick.5:12
Matthew Taylor delivers the ball, Aron Gunnarsson makes a clearance.3:42
The referee gives a free kick against Gary O'Neil for handball. Free kick taken by Liam Lawrence.2:39
Corner taken short by Peter Whittingham.2:22
Shot by Kenny Miller. Robert Green makes a save.1:50
Inswinging corner taken by Peter Whittingham from the right by-line, clearance made by Carlton Cole.1:35
Peter Whittingham takes a shot. James Tomkins gets a block in.0:00
The referee gets the game started.
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