Championship Play Off Semi Final 2nd Leg
West Ham United 3 Cardiff City 0 (5-0 aggregate)
West Ham booked their place in the Play Off Final at Wembley after a comfortable 3-0 win over Cardiff City in the 2nd leg of the Semi Final.
Any talk of nerves or even over confidence was not evident throughout the game as we cruised to victory over a Cardiff side who offered nothing for us to be concerned about.
Our finishing was clinical, our work rate commendable and we are now just one game away from returning to the Premiership as we take on either Blackpool or Birmingham City at Wembley Stadium on 19th May.
I was quite confident going into the game that we would do the job that was required. My confidence was more down to my belief that Cardiff are just not very good and their performance against us in the first leg was pretty dismal considering the magnitude of the game and again they showed very little in this performance and if I were a Cardiff fan I would be asking the question why didn’t they really go for it.
Maybe of course I am not giving our performances over both legs enough praise as we were much organised and looked a class above our opponents. It makes you wonder how they managed to beat us in the very first game of the season.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable day and there has not been enough really enjoyable days at Upton Park over the last few seasons. Everyone was in party mode and once we got that first goal it was pretty much game over and we could really start to relax.
We now go to Wembley for the first time since 1981 (before I was born) on what hopefully will be a memorable occasion for all the right reasons. We are the form team and we are looking very strong at the moment.
Play Off Semi Finals usually have their fair share of drama and I don’t recall off the top of my head a more clear cut result over the two legs. I know we are in the second division but I am still proud of our superiority and whenever West Ham make the opposition look second rate it always pleases me.
I had thought that Allardyce may have brought in George McCartney for Matthew Taylor but he stuck to the same team from the first leg which was pretty fair considering how well they all played.
Henri Lansbury was back in the squad and on the bench.
Managing Cardiff City was former Hammer Malky McKay. The Scottish centre half played for the club in our last stint in the 2nd division during 2004/05 season. He started 24 games scoring 2 goals.
Having had a few drinks in the Britannia in Plaistow and then a couple in the Black Lion everything was a little bit blurry as I took my seat just before kick off.
But everything became a lot clearer as ‘Bubbles’ rang out with more depth and noise than I have heard in a while.
Upton Park was packed and this was a firm sell out. West Ham fans are often criticised for being difficult and demanding but when we are required to get behind the team we do it as well as anyone in the land. The atmosphere was potent; the possibility of going to Wembley close at hand and you could feel the excitement around the Boleyn Ground.
We had set up as a 4-4-2 and Ricardo Vaz Te took his place up front alongside Carlton Cole and not on the wing as he did at Cardiff last Thursday.
It was Vaz Te who had the first half chance as he attempted another overhead kick when a long throw was put into the area towards him. The attempt was blocked and the Cardiff keeper was able to claim.
With ten minutes gone we were looking comfortable and were unlucky not to make more of a nice move when Tomkins swept the ball to the right for Demel to cross into the area but his cross was cleared.
Noble was again dictating much of our place as he sat in the middle of the park and spread the ball wide. On this occasion he got the ball to Demel who in turn found Collison who put it through the legs of the Cardiff player and won a corner.
The corner was swung in by Matthew Taylor and it seemed to get a touch of Carlton Cole as it looped into the air and Kevin Nolan was on hand to nod the ball over the line and make it 1-0.
All talk of an early Cardiff goal and a gutsy fight back all ended with this goal from Nolan which was his 13th of the season.
‘We’re Going to Wembley’ was being bellowed out from the West Ham faithful and the celebratory atmosphere could really begin even with just fifteen minutes on the clock.
Cardiff were desperate to get back into the game and did give it a little bit of a go just after our goal. They won a throw in which long throw expert Gunnarsson stepped up to take but he ended up taking it short. The reason for this is they simply do not work against us as we showed in Wales in the first leg.
They attempted many of these long throws into the area but Tomkins and Reid were always first to them.
From their short throw we got the ball back and Jack Collison was put away down the right hand side. The midfielder raced forward and picked out Gary O’Neil with a perfect pass and he attempted a cushioned volley at goal which beat the keeper but crashed off the top of the cross bar.
We were the ones looking likely to score another as we continued to control the game. Some good control from Cole saw the striker get the ball to Noble who again spread the ball wide, this time to Vaz Te who had come out to the right and he set up Gary O’Neil who took his shot first time only for David Marshall in the Cardiff goal to make a superb stop to deny him.
With half time approaching all we needed now was to get that second goal and really kill off any hope Cardiff may have had of getting back into the game.
And with five minutes left of the first period we did just that.
O’Neil had come out to the right and linked up with Guy Demel who played a first time pass towards Ricardo Vaz Te who rolled his marker Turner and hit an unstoppable shot into the top corner to make it 2-0.
It was a terrific finish from a player who had proved himself capable since his signing in January. This was his 11th goal of the season for West Ham which is remarkable considering the amount of time he has been at the club and that he is not always played in a striking position.
Cardiff won a free kick which was situated around 30 yard out. Taking the set piece was Peter Whittingham who is apparently the best player Cardiff have and there was a little bit of hype about him going into both of these semi-finals but he put his shot well over the bar as he continued to offer nothing to this tie at all.
Two minutes of added time were awarded by referee Mike Dean (who was excellent) and we saw these out with much comfort.
No changes were made at half time as the Cardiff City players made their return to the pitch a few minutes earlier than ourselves. Maybe Malky McKay told them to attempt to take part in this game as they hadn’t bothered during the first half.
The second half was generally one that went through the motions. Cardiff never looked like scoring one goal never mind four or five and it was a half of little incident.
Just after the restart Jack Collison was released down the right and challenged fairly but hard but the Cardiff player and he went down clutching his shoulder. It was clear that he was in some discomfort and almost straight away the physio signalled that he would need to come off.
It has since became apparent that he had dislocated his shoulder which may keep him out of the final which would devastating for a player who helped get us there.
On in his place was Henri Lansbury.
Cardiff were seeing more of the ball and the noise level inside the ground had abated a little. The tie was practically over and everyone including Cardiff knew it.
The visitors were really struggling to create any chances and Kenny Miller saw his long range effort go well wide of the goal much to the amusement of the West Ham fans.
We were still bossing the game and looked in little danger. Sam Allardyce decided to use another sub as he took off the Captain Kevin Nolan and replaced him with the Players Player of the season George McCartney.
Nolan received a standing ovation from the West Ham supporters as McCartney went to left back with Matthew Taylor pushing up.
The best chance of the half up until this point came with ten minutes remaining as we broke forward and found Cole who superbly backheeled the ball into the area and into the path of Matthew Taylor who just couldn’t get his attempt over the onrushing Marshall who smothered the ball.
‘Que Sera Sera’ was being sung at a much louder level now as the final whistle was approaching.
This had been an extremely professional performance and exactly what was required.
Allardyce made his final substitution of the game with Nicky Maynard coming on in place of Carlton Cole who also received a standing ovation from the crowd.
And Nicky Maynard would be on the score sheet just four minutes after coming on as in the 90th minute Lansbury slipped the ball through to him and he rifled an unstoppable shot into the far corner making it 3-0 and the icing on the cake.
As the final whistle blew the majority of supporters stayed as the players did a lap around the pitch. This was one of the best days at Upton Park we have seen in far too long.
I do not recall a save Robert Green had to make all game. He came for a number of crosses and claimed well but in terms of saves I do not remember him having to make any meaningful stops. An easy day for Greeno and hopefully not the last time we see him play at Upton Park though I suspect it may be.
If we put that mistake against Hull aside he has been very impressive since he made the right back position his own. He was strong and was rarely beaten throughout the game. He got forward well and linked up with Collison in the first half. Good stuff.
Voted the official man of the match and it is not hard to see why as he was immense putting in a monstrous display. Read the game perfectly and was always first to the ball. Very impressive.
Along with Noble he is our most consistent performer who since the beginning of the season has been in top form. This again was no exception and he had a very comfortable day against a Cardiff side who offered little worry to our centre halves.
Having been a little concerned about his recent form he has really stepped up during both these play-off games and with McCartney back to fitness there will be a selection headache for Allardyce when the final comes along. Taylor was busy during this game, worked hard and was rarely troubled.
His form has picked up at an incredible rate during both these games. Although he only managed to play the first half before coming off injured he was excellent during his time on the pitch. He won the corner that led to the first goal and he was always in space down the right. I really hope injury doesn’t keep him out for the final as it would be horrible for him and also we would be missing an in-form player.
The nerve centre, the control room, call it what you will but that is what Mark Noble is. He sits in the centre of midfield and picks up any loose and is always available to receive the ball. He spreads it wide, he gets things going and he is the start of many of our movements forward. This was another excellent display from the Hammer Of The Year.
His goal scoring exploits continue to impress and he was in the right place at the right time to score his 13th goal of the season which for a midfielder, especially at West Ham is very impressive indeed. His performance in the final will be key to our success.
Deserved a goal with two excellent efforts in the first time. I keep mentioning his work rate but it really does need to be highlighted again as it is remarkable. In the second half there was one moment where he just kept running and closing the opposition players down. You have to look at his inclusion in our starting eleven as the point where our form picked up as it seems to be in direct correlation. Any previous reservation or criticism of Gary O’Neil has been firmly rammed down our throats.
Ricardo Vaz Te
He may drift in and out of the game but he has the knack for something special and his finish was simply brilliant.
Not as dominant as he was in the first leg but we played a lot more football on the floor and he wasn’t as isolated up front. Only had one half chance with a header which looped onto the roof of the net but despite Maynard scoring I expect him to start at Wembley.
Henri Lansbury (on for Collison 46 mins)
A decent half for Lansbury who likes to get his foot in and came away with an assist for the third goal.
George McCartney (on for Nolan 69 mins)
Tidy and solid as he usually is. Will he get a place in the team that starts at Wembley is the question.
Nicky Maynard (on for Cole 86 mins)
Not on for long but took his goal extremely well. A really excellent finish and his first goal at Upton Park.
Subs Not Used: Henderson, Faubert
Man Of The Match: Winston Reid
Cardiff City:Marshall, McNaughton, Taylor, Hudson, Turner, Lawrence, Whittingham, Gunnarsson, McPhail, Mason, Miller
Subs: Heaton, Blake, Kiss, Cowie, Earnshaw
Attendance: 34, 682
We controlled this entire Play Off Semi Final from start to finish and I am referring to both legs.
These two games against Cardiff have been my favourite of the season due to atmosphere and all round team performance.
I like many worried about how we would react to the Play Off’s and whilst we have not secured our Premiership status yet both these displays against Cardiff give me hope because all the players really stepped up and the fans reacted to that.
Next Game – Blackpool or Birmingham City (N) Saturday 19th May Play Off Final
West Ham were last at Wembley Stadium in 1981 for the League Cup final when a late Ray Stewart penalty took the game to a replay against Liverpool.
We were a second division team at the time playing one of the best teams in the country and the pressure was not entirely on us to win. This time around things are completely different in a game which has more pressure than any other final in England.
This sort of game shapes futures of clubs and this game will shape our immediate future and give us one of the best days out of recent times or the worst.
It is a extremely fine line between success and failure and any enjoyment we have taken from the Semi Final will be long forgotten if we do not manage to win this game.
I cannot wait for the 19th to come and with around 40,000 West Ham fans in attendance it will an amazing occasion.
We wait for days like this to come along and it is up next.
Have a great day at Wembley and hopefully we will all be celebrating all summer long.
Fortunes Always Hiding. I’ve looked everywhere
And they are at Wembley.
They have to be.
"Well of course it could have been a nervy affair for us prior to the game because we had got everything to lose and nothing to gain."
"We had a 2-0 lead and were wondering what Cardiff were going to do - whether they were going to go gung-ho from the start or play the way they usually play.
"We just said we'll play the same system that we've played in the last two home games and put the Cardiff defence under severe pressure as early as we possibly could. The quality of our play showed and it was key to us getting the early goal again.
"I think, from there on, it was just a matter of time before we got more and it nearly came really quickly when Gary O'Neil hit the crossbar. Vaz then got his goal and I think that obviously knocked the spirit out of Cardiff.
"Then we just waited patiently and the third goal was equally as stunning as Vaz Te's at the end. At the other end, we got a very important clean sheet and we go into the all-important Wembley final both resilient and in an attacking, goal-scoring mood.
"That's eight games and we're averaging three-goals-a-game over that period. We've lost one game in 20 and it stands us in good stead for getting on the big stage at Wembley."
"The only disappointing thing to come out of the game was that it looks like Jack Collison has dislocated his shoulder. I know it has gone straight back in so hopefully he'll be OK.
Everybody else is fine and we've got a really good few days now to get recovered and start the process of build-up towards the final.
"We won't want to get anybody hurt so physical contact in training will be kept to a minimum and everybody just needs to look after themselves now and get themselves right physically and mentally for what will be a big, big challenge at one of the biggest arenas in the world.
"Let's hope we can go there and deliver the type of performance we did today."
"I went to the old Wembley with Bolton for a semi-final and won the Play-Offs at the Millennium Stadium but they were different arenas at the time.
"To see the West Ham fans there filling one half of that stadium is going to be pretty special and I hope we can all come out at the end of it with what we all hope for.
"We have another obstacle in the way who will be equally determined to go where we want to go in either Blackpool or Birmingham, so it's about us maintaining our form going into this vital final game of the season."
Season 2011/12 Scorers and Red Cards
Carlton Cole - 14 (14 League)
Kevin Nolan - 13 (13 League)
Ricardo Vaz Te - 11 (11 League)
Mark Noble - 8 (8 League)
Jack Collison - 6 (6 League)
Sam Baldock - 5 (5 League)
Own Goal - 4 (4 League)
Nicky Maynard - 3 (3 League)
Winston Reid - 3 (3 League)
James Tomkins - 3 (3 League)
Gary O'Neil - 2 (2 League)
John Carew - 2 (2 League)
Frederique Piquionne - 2 (2 League)
Henri Lansbury - 1 (1 League)
Papa Bouba Diop - 1 (1 League)
Joey O'Brien - 1 (1 League)
Matthew Taylor - 1 (1 League)
Julien Faubert - 1 (1 League)
Frank Nouble - 1 (1 League)
George McCartney - 1 (1 League)
Danny Collins - 1 (1 League)
Scott Parker - 1 (1 League)
Junior Stanislas - 1 (1 Cup)
Callum McNaughton - 1 (vs Aldershot home)
Frederique Piquionne - 1 (vs Portsmouth home)
Joey O'Brien - 1 (vs Reading away)
Jack Collison - 1 (vs Reading away)
Kevin Nolan - 1 (vs Millwall home)
Matthew Taylor - 1 (vs Southampton home)
Robert Green - 1 (vs Blackpool away)*
*rescinded by FA on appeal