Ricardo Vaz Te struck a late winner as West Ham defeated Blackpool in an absorbing Championship play-off final to seal their return to the Premier League at the first attempt.
The result ensured that manager Sam Allardyce made good on his promise to take the Hammers back into the top flight after his team narrowly missed out on automatic promotion at the end of the regular season.
"The keeper was magnificent but the ball slipped out of his hands. Vaz Te was in the right place at the right time to smash the ball into the net. But Gilks could have been a bit stronger."
Allardyce's side had led at the break through a Carlton Cole strike but after Thomas Ince - son of former Hammers midfielder Paul - levelled shortly after the restart, the match became increasingly stretched and ragged.
Both teams wasted good opportunities to score but it was the London side who did grab what proved to be the decisive third when the unmarked Vaz Te,
a January signing from Barnsley,
drilled the ball into the net from 12 yards.
It was a goal that meant West Ham won on their first appearance at Wembley in 31 years, in doing so becoming the first team since Leicester in 1996 to bounce straight back to the Premier League through the play-offs.
But it ensured that the unfortunate Blackpool,
relegated along with West Ham last season,
did not seal a fairytale return to the top flight.
The Seasiders had been in excellent form during the closing weeks of the season and
showed incredible guts and desire to hold off Birmingham
in their play-off semi-final.
"Even if some think Allardyce's team are the equivalent of a backstreet bruiser, nobody can argue that he has not made good on his promise to win promotion."
Several times during the final it looked as though Ian Holloway's team would shake off the loss of key striker Gary Taylor-Fletcher to an injury picked up in training and overcome the odds by defeating the heavily fancied Hammers.
Holloway's team spurned several good opportunities to take the lead, with Stephen Dobbie the first into action, drawing a decent save from Robert Green after Hammers left-back Matt Taylor failed to clear a diagonal ball.
Matt Phillips shot tamely from 20 yards after he had been played clean through and the former Wycombe wide man later missed from 14 yards after a terrible botched clearance from Guy Demel created the opening.
Hammers boss Allardyce had opted for a solid team formation for the final even though his team had won
in their two meetings with Blackpool in the Championship.
West Ham started with Vaz Te on the left and Cole often isolated ahead of a packed Hammers midfield. Vaz Te was a constant menace but it was from the otherwise disappointing Taylor that the London team created the opening goal.
Taylor surged forward down the left flank and, after Angel Martinez wasted a chance to snuff out the move, delivered a teasing cross that Cole controlled before drilling the ball across goal from 10 yards.
Did you know?
- This was West Ham's first visit to Wembley since 1981.
- The Hammers have not lost to Blackpool for 41 years.
- Ian Evatt equalled the most appearances at Wembley for Blackpool, joining Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortensen with three.
The goal seemed to temporarily derail Blackpool, who rather limped through the final 15 minutes of the first half before levelling shortly after the restart.
The Hammers had looked comfortable in the lead, playing a high line and squeezing the space in midfield. But after Taylor was caught out by another raking diagonal pass, Ince showed excellent composure in allowing the ball to bounce before shooting low across Green's goal.
Allardyce had clearly seen enough and brought on George McCartney to slot in at left-back to try to nullify the threat posed by Ince.
But although that was probably an effective decision the match in general nonetheless became stretched as both teams pushed in search of what would probably be the game's decisive goal.
a play-off winner last season with Swansea,
missed a brilliant chance, scuffing his shot from 14 yards when completely unmarked, while West Ham skipper Kevin Nolan was unlucky to see his technically superb volley crash against the woodwork.
The final seemed to be heading for extra-time before Vaz Te struck after Matt Gilks parried at the feet of Cole to justify his team's billing as favourites and leave supporters looking forward to a return to the Premier League when the new season starts in August.
- 01 Gilks
- 03 Crainey
- 05 Eardley
- 06 Evatt
- 15 Baptiste
- 16 Ferguson
- 23 M Phillips
- 31 Angel (Dicko - 90' )
- 07 Dobbie (Bednar - 90' )
- 09 K Phillips (Sylvestre - 71' )
- 36 Ince
- 20 Cathcart
- 04 Southern
- 14 Sylvestre
- 32 Dicko
- 35 Bednar
West Ham United
- 01 Green
- 02 Reid
- 05 Tomkins
- 20 Demel (Faubert - 57' )
- 04 Nolan
- 10 Collison
- 14 Taylor
- 16 Noble
- 32 O'Neil (McCartney - 53' )
- 09 Cole
- 12 Vaz Te Booked
- 13 Henderson
- 03 McCartney
- 18 Faubert
- 22 Lansbury
- 08 Maynard