LONDON: West Ham clinched promotion to the Premier League asRicardo Vaz Te's late winner sealed a dramatic 2-1 victory overBlackpool in the Championship play-off final at Wembley onSaturday. Sam Allardyce's side survived a nervous start to take the leadthrough Carlton Cole's first half strike, but Tom Ince equalisedsoon after the break and Blackpool had several good chances to goahead. Portuguese forward Vaz Te made the Seasiders pay for theirprofligacy when he struck from close-range in the 87th minute toensure the Hammers returned to the top-flight just 12 months afterrelegation. Vaz Te's winner was crucial for a club who had invested heavily inwinning promotion and the east London outfit's place in the PremierLeague will rake in between 45 million and 90 million pounds inincreased revenue according to varying reports. "Blackpool were every bit as good as us but we just swung it in ourfavour. |
It's 49 games this season and it's the first time we've wona game in the last few minutes," Allardyce said. "I'm just delighted to be back in the Premier League. It meanseverything to me because I had been in the Premier League for 10years or so (before being sacked by Blackburn in 2010). "It was difficult at the start to turn this club around but we havecome good at the end." Defeat was cruel on Blackpool, who almost made the perfect startwhen poor defending from Matt Taylor allowed Stephen Dobbie tosqueeze past him and drive in a low strike that Robert Green pushedonto his near post. That narrow escape seemed to unsettle West Ham and their defenceparted with alarming ease as Matt Phillips surged clear, only toshoot tamely at Green with just the goalkeeper to beat.
West Ham's nerves were on show again when right-back Guy Demel madea hash of clearing on the edge of his own penalty area and Phillipsstole possession before curling just wide with the goal at hismercy. But West Ham, making their first appearance at Wembley since 1981,gradually grew into the match and, after Vaz Te fired just wide,Allardyce's team took the lead in the 35th minute. As Blackpool appealed in vain for a foul on Ince, Taylor looked upand dinked a sublime diagonal pass over the Seasiders defencetowards Cole, whose perfect first touch brought the ball undercontrol before his second guided a cool strike past Matt Gilks. Vaz Te should have increased West Ham's advantage moments laterwhen Blackpool's statuesque back-four allowed him a clear sight ofgoal, but the striker snatched at the chance and dragged it wide.
West Ham finished third, 11 points ahead of fifth-placed Blackpool,but spent most of the season struggling to cope with the demands oftheir fans and directors, who had both expected automatic promotionto the Premier League. And they looked like cracking again as Ince fashioned a fineequaliser early in the second half. Ince's father Paul has never been forgiven for posing in aManchester United shirt prior to moving to Old Trafford from WestHam and the young winger was taunted by the Hammers fans atWembley. They were silenced in the 48th minute when West Ham's defendersfailed to deal with Phillips' long pass towards Ince, who produceda superb first-time strike angled across Green into the far corner.
Alex Baptiste should have given Ian Holloway's men the lead secondslater when he ran onto a Kevin Phillips pass, but the defender'sprodded effort was cleared off the line by Taylor. Blackpool threatened again as a flowing move cut through theHammers defence to set up Dobbie, who clutched his head infrustration after scuffing woefully wide from Neal Eardley's cross. But West Ham captain Kevin Nolan hit the bar with a ferociousvolley in the closing stages. And it was Nolan who proved the catalyst for West Ham's winner ashe found the energy to sprint down the left before whipping over alow cross that caused havoc in the Blackpool defence. Baptiste failed to clear and Cole flicked the ball towards Vaz Te,who had the simple task of firing high into the empty net fromclose-range to spark wild celebrations.
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