Match of the Weekend 1 – The Championship Playoff Final: West Ham United 2 Blackpool 1
West Ham United are back in the Premier League, after Ricardo Vaz Te’s late strike gave them victory over a doggedBlackpoolside. In a match that inevitably gets linked with the £90million that the club will earn from being in the Premier League for a season (and the parachute payments should the winning team last just one season), it was a match that the Sky hype machine almost manage to bill as the most important game of the season, but the second most important of the day. In terms of quality, it wasn’t one of the greatest Playoff finals, butBlackpooland West Ham served up yet another exciting game, and one that will sit comfortably among the Championship’s end of season finale.
It was a game that, started as it would play out. West Ham spent most of the early exchanges showing their hand in terms of their main game plan. They looked to get Ricardo Vaz Te behind the defence, and try and spring it from a cross out wide, a tactic the Hammers try three times in the first ten minutes, yet each time, the Portugese forward is clearly offside, The Plan B looks to be pushing the midfield forward, so that any loose balls are met hard and fast, and Matt Taylor shows this tactic’s potential by charging into the box to claim a second ball from a weak cross, but it’s a shot that goes high and wide. That said, in what is almost an example of how a lot of the match would play out, West Ham may have looked the most threatening in the early exchanges, but the Seasiders created the better chance, with Stephen Dobbie’s third minute chance coming from a slip under pressure from Matt Taylor. It’s a shot that Robert Green is equal to. West Ham’s best chance coming when Vaz Te runs at the defence, but loses his balance as he puts what is a cross-shot in.
It takes Blackpool fifteen minutes to really get into gear, but when they do, they start dominating, but where West Ham’s problem is creating a great final ball, Blackpool’s appears to be finishing. Matt Phillips going clear twice in two minutes, first beating the offside trap, but a poor first touch letting him down, the second time he muscles past Guy Demel after the Hammers’ right back slips, but Phillips puts the chance wide. West Ham still create the occasional chance during this spell, with Vaz Te getting behind the defence, and staying onside for the first time, but he needs support and doesn’t get it. The second time, he brings Carlton Cole, and Gary O’Neil into play, but when he gets the ball back he can only find the side netting. West Ham take the initiative again with a flurry of corners, none of which Blackpooldefend convincingly, but it’s from a cross in open play in the 35th minute, that the deadlock is broken. Matt Taylor puts a great cross in from the left, and it’s Cole, rather than Vaz Te that’s waiting. Cole gets behind Ian Evatt, controls the ball, and fires it past the despairing Matt Gilks in theBlackpool goal. West Ham United 1Blackpool 0.
A similar cross comes in from the right towards Vaz Te, but he can’t connect cleanly, and its starting to look like its not his day. It’s the last chance of a scrappy, but entertaining first half, as the final ten minutes of the first half play out with West Ham being dominant in possession, butBlackpoolkeep them at bay with no real difficulty. The second half starts with a bang.Blackpooltry taking West Ham at their own game. Carlton Cole loses possession on the halfway line, and Matt Phillips crosses from wide. Tom Ince is on the end of it, and it’s almost a carbon copy of the opener. West Ham United 1Blackpool1.
At this point,Blackpoollook dominant. A move involving Kevin Phillips and Alex Baptiste sees the defender six yards out with the ball at his feet – he flicks the ball over Robert Green, but Matt Taylor clears it off the line. Ángel Martinez plays Stephen Dobbie in, past Winston Reid who slips, but recovers as Dobbie fails to get the ball under control. Sam Allardyce makes a change to try and stopBlackpool’s dominance.and Gary O’Neil is replaced by the more defensive George McCartney. Although McCartney goes into O’Neil’s left back position, he’s seen as the better option to try and suppress Tom Ince on theBlackpoolright, who had started the second half strongly, after a quiet first half. With McCartney looking after Ince, West Ham flooding the central midfield, and outnumber the Tangerines 4-3. For a short while it works, and West Ham create chances through the middle. A sharp turn and shot by Carlton Cole, brings the best save of the match from Matt Gilks, but Blackpool still create chances – Dobbie should have scored, but scuffs his shot, and a deflected Ian Evatt shots from a corner, is cleared off the line by Mark Noble.
Ian Holloway tries his own tactical masterstroke, as he brings Ludo Sylvestre on for Kevin Phillips. The Tangerines move to a front three without an out and out centre-forward. Dobbie takes the most central role, but you have to think this is in response to West Ham going narrow, as in theory it allowed Dobbie, Matt Phillps and Ince to swap positions at will. However, it was West Ham, rather thanBlackpoolwho took the initiative. Jack Collison has a chance shoots over from a wide angle, and a Kevin Nolan volley hits the crossbar.Blackpoolstill have chances, but the best is Stephen Dobbie’s low freekick, comfortably gathered by Robert Green, but with five minutes remaining, West Ham score again. Nolan threads a ball to Carlton Cole, who muscles past a defender, before slipping and colliding with Matt Gilks, as Cole slips, he manages to nudge the ball away from the keeper. Vaz Te proves it is his day after all, as he fires home. Some may call it a foul on the keeper, but that would have been very harsh. West Ham United 2 Blackpool 1.
Blackpool throw on Roman Bednar and Nouha Dicko on, but can’t create any chances, and as the fourth official indicates 4 minutes, Matt Taylor fires a shot from the edge of the area high into the crowd. It’s the last chance of the game, and West Ham’s gamble by keeping as many of the relegated team as possible, and spending in the January transfer window pays off. They are back in the Premier League, which can only strengthen their bid to get a free stadium paid for byLondon’s Council Tax payers at the conclusion of the Olympics.Blackpool had more than enough chances to win it, with Stephen Dobbie the biggest culprit, but the Tangerines should not be ashamed, as they contributed to another entertaining Championship Playoff Final. However, for those of us traditionalists who dislike the Playoffs, at least there is some justice as the side who finished third in the Championship join Reading and Southampton in being promoted.
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