Championship Play-Off's ...
by Roger Hillier
Play-Off's for a Premiership place
Don’t count your chickens before they hatch! The bookmakers’ odds of close to evens may have West Ham as favourites to win the 2011-12 Championship Play-Off Final but previous form will count for little at 3.00pm on Saturday 19th May 2012.
Typical bookmaker odds are 11-10 for West Ham to win and 11-4 for a Blackpool victory. The shorter odds reflect the Hammers’ league double over play-off opponents the Tangerines with 4-1 and 4-0 wins away and at home respectively. If only those eight goals could be exchanged for a single goal start!
West Ham are not newcomers to the second tier Play-Off Finals. This is the third occasion in the last nine seasons in which the Hammers have reached the play-off stages and successfully reached the final. The first was in 2003-04 and the second in the following season 2004-05.
Let’s review the Hammers’ league finishes and those earlier play-off performances for a place at the Premiership’s high table.
Summary of Final Division One / Championship League Position & Playing Record
The following table summarises how the club qualified for the play-off stages.
Compared with the two previous play-off season’s final league standing, this season’s league record is very impressive. Thirteen more points and three positions higher than when the club won the 2004-05 play-off final.
Both of the previous play-offs were under the management of Alan Pardew.
After finishing 4th in the league West Ham United qualified to play 5th place Ipswich Town in the Division One Play-Off semi-final. A 1-0 defeat in the away first leg put the Hammers under severe pressure for the return leg. But an evening game under the Upton Park floodlights is often worth a goal start for the Hammers and this match proved to be no exception. On Tuesday May 18th, 34,002 people crammed into Upton Park. The home supporters were not disappointed as the Hammers produced one of their best performances of the season. Second half strikes by Matthew Etherington (50 mins) and Christian Dailly (71 mins) gave West Ham a 2-0 victory on the night and a 2-1 aggregate win.
Eleven days later West Ham United faced Crystal Palace in the final at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium. With over 72,500 in the stadium the Hammers could not repeat the stirring performance of their second leg semi-final win. A 62nd minute goal by Crystal Palace’s Neil Shipperley secured their Premiership place. The Hammers would have to wait another season.
2003-04 : Nationwide Football League
Portman Road : Semi-Final 1st leg
0 - 1
15th May 2004
Upton Park : Semi-Final 2nd leg
2 - 0 (Etherington, Dailly)
18th May 2004
MILLENNIUM STADIUM : CARDIFF
CRYSTAL PALACE : 29th May 2004
Neil Shipperley bundled home the most important goal of his career to send Crystal Palace back into the Barclaycard Premiership after a six-year absence and clinch an estimated £25million prize at the expense of heartbroken West Ham in the play-off final. The Eagles captain got enough of a touch on a 62nd-minute shot from First Division top scorer Andy Johnson which Hammers goalkeeper Stephen Bywater could only push invitingly into his path. Shipperley has played for five other clubs in a distinguished career, but he is in his second spell with Palace and it is there where he will now be best remembered after putting the finishing touch on a remarkable campaign under manager Iain Dowie.
The Eagles were battling against relegation when Dowie took over as manager back in December, but the former Oldham boss brought them back from the brink to clinch a play-off place in the dying seconds of the season. Palace reached the Millennium Stadium by beating Sunderland on penalties in a gruelling semi-final despite being reduced to 10 men following Julian Gray's dismissal in normal time, and they showed the same spirit against the Hammers, whose immediate future now looks bleak. The Hammers are an estimated £33million in debt and the likes of Michael Carrick, Christian Dailly and Tomas Repka may all now have to follow those sacrificed after last season's relegation from the top flight. This was new territory for the Hammers, who were making their first foray into the play-offs, while Palace had tasted defeat and victory in the Division One final two years in succession in the late 90s.
The Eagles almost missed their chance this time around after losing at Coventry on the final day of the regular season, and ironically it was Brian Deane's last-minute equaliser for West Ham at Wigan which ultimately clinched them a top-six finish. The final was given extra spice by virtue of the all-London rivalry between the two sides, and a foul by Dailly on Aki Riihilahti gave Palace an early free-kick in a dangerous area from which Danny Butterfield shot marginally wide. Johnson put a free header from a teasing Wayne Routledge centre over the crossbar when team-mate Shipperley was better placed to capitalise on some slack Hammers marking. And Palace full-back Danny Granville should have done better when Bywater fumbled a Shaun Derry corner into his path, fluffing his lines poorly in front of goal with West Ham's keeper stranded. But a moment of magic from Carrick should have provided the breakthrough for Hammers striker Bobby Zamora in the 20th minute. Carrick's chipped through-ball was inch-perfect, but Zamora choked in front of goal, firing his shot against the keeper's legs. West Ham defender Repka cleared a Michael Hughes shot which sneaked past Bywater off his own goalline before Zamora had a penalty appeal turned down for a tug by Mikele Leigertwood right on the edge of the Palace area. Eagles keeper Vaesen was at full stretch to deny Steve Lomas when the Northern Ireland midfielder let fly from 25 yards after a good spell of pressure from West Ham.
Palace finally broke the deadlock when Bywater could only push Johnson's shot from the edge of the box into the path of Shipperley, who bundled it over the line from close range in the 62nd minute. David Connolly and Zamora both had the ball in the net at the other end shortly afterwards only to be denied by a linesman's flag, and Carrick tested Vaesen handling from distance. Hammers boss Alan Pardew abandoned the club's principles by throwing on lanky strikers Brian Deane and Don Hutchison in a desperate bid to snatch an equaliser, and they should have had a penalty with seven minutes remaining. Leigertwood was guilty of a clumsy foul on Carrick inside the area and right in front of referee Graham Poll, but the Hertfordshire official waved away West Ham's appeals and Palace held on.
Bywater, Mullins, Repka, Dailly, Melville, Harewood (Reo-Coker 68), Lomas, Carrick M. Etherington, Connolly (Hutchison 74), Zamora (Deane 68)
The Hammers scrapped a play-off place by finishing 6th in the league. Again they faced the Tractor Boys but this time the Hammers were always in front. The semi-final play-off first leg was played at Upton Park in front of a sell-out 33,723. Despite roaring off to a 2-0 lead after only 13 minutes, the Hammers were pegged back to 2-2 by a determined Ipswich performance. Marlon Harewood (7 mins) and Bobby Zamora (13 mins) goals gave the Hammers the flying start but an own goal by goalkeeper Jimmy Walker just before half time and a strike by Shefki Kuqi made the score evens after 90 minutes. On paper Ipswich would have been clear favourites to win their home leg and qualify for the final. No one told Bobby Zamora this! The play-off semi-final was Bobby’s stage and he added to his first leg goal with a brace at Portman Road. In the space of 11 minutes Bobby popped in two second half goals (61 & 72 mins) to give West Ham a 4-2 aggregate win and another appearance at the Millennium Stadium.
This time the Hammers faced Preston North End in a reminder of when the two teams faced each other in the 1964 FA Cup Final. On this occasion the Hammers made up for the previous year’s disappointment with a 1-0 victory thanks to the team’s star player of the play-offs, Bobby Zamora. Bobby added to his three semi-final goals with a 57 minute strike for the final’s only goal. West Ham were back in the top flight after an absence of two seasons!
2004-05 : Coca-Cola Football League
Upton Park : Semi-Final 1st leg
2 - 2 (Harewood, Zamora)
14th May 2005
Portman Road : Semi-Final 2nd leg
2 - 0 (Zamora 2)
18th May 2005
MILLENNIUM STADIUM : CARDIFF
PRESTON NORTH END : 30th May 2005
Walker (Bywater 87), Repka, Ferdinand, Ward, Powell, Newton (Noble 82), Reo-Coker, Mullins, Etherington, Harewood, Zamora (Dailly 74).
Bobby Zamora struck the second-half goal that took West Ham back into the Premiership after a two-year absence. The England Under-21 international scored from close range in the 58th minute of the Championship play-off final against Preston after Claude Davis had slipped attempting to clear Matthew Etherington's left-wing cross. This win is as much of a relief for the east London club off the field as it is on it. With a reported £30million worth of debt, Alan Pardew's side needed to win to claim the estimated £20m jackpot for entering the Premiership. Failure was not an option as they were no longer eligible for the £6m parachute payment given to Championship clubs in their first two seasons after dropping out of the Premiership.
The Hammers, who deserved to win, also had to contend with what appeared to be a serious injury to goalkeeper Jimmy Walker, who seemed to damage his knee catching a cross late on and was replaced by Stephen Bywater. Preston boss Billy Davies will rue the fact that his side rarely played as well as they can, and Marlon Harewood, Zamora and Etherington all missed chances to make it more convincing for the Hammers, while Tomas Repka hit the post early on. And praise must be given to Elliott Ward, who was outstanding at the back for West Ham. West Ham boss Pardew reverted to a 4-4-2 formation, with Shaun Newton - who has twice been successful in play-off finals - coming in on the right of midfield with Carl Fletcher dropping to the bench. Davies opted to leave fit-again Graham Alexander on the bench and stick with the XI that drew 0-0 at Derby to clinch a 2-0 aggregate triumph in the semi-final.
West Ham held the edge for most of the first half, as Preston looked nervous and key midfielder Paul McKenna struggled to get on the ball. Zamora, preferred in attack to the fit-again Teddy Sheringham, looked bright early on, and created a terrific chance for his side in the fifth minute. The former Brighton striker's crossfield pass released Newton on the right, whose perfectly-timed through ball allowed the overlapping Repka to send a right-foot shot against the outside of Carlo Nash's left post from close range. With less than a minute on the clock, Nash had been forced to make a flying punch to clear Chris Powell's left-wing cross, and the goalkeeper was relieved to see Repka's shot strike wood. Zamora believed he should have won a penalty when he fell under Youl Mawene's challenge following a mistake by Eddie Lewis, but referee Mike Riley saw no infringement. Preston were struggling to trouble the West Ham back four, their 20-year-old striker David Nugent starved of service in attack. But Nugent was involved in one of his side's best moments of the half, a cleverly-worked free-kick that ended with Anton Ferdinand hooking Richard Cresswell's cross to safety. Back came West Ham, though, Zamora setting up left-winger Etherington for a rising 12-yard shot that Nash was able to push over his bar.
The bad feeling that had characterised Preston's two league wins over the Hammers this term was never far from bubbling to the surface, and in the 28th minute West Ham midfielder Hayden Mullins was booked for squaring up to Brian O'Neil. Although he was rarely involved, Nugent's touch and talent were evident when he did receive the ball. Controlling a 50-yard ball from Mawene instantly, the former Bury striker ran at Repka but the Czech defender did just enough to avert the danger. In the final minute of the half, Nigel Reo-Coker broke from midfield for West Ham and fed Zamora, who managed to dispossess Claude Davis - only for the Jamaican centre-back to make a fine recovery tackle and turn the ball behind for a corner. Preston started brightly after the break, and Cresswell's firm header from McKenna's right-wing corner was headed off the line by Newton. But Billy Davies' side had an incredible escape two minutes later. First Nash did brilliantly to keep out Harewood's close-range effort, then Mawene cleared Zamora's follow-up shot off the line and when the ball broke to Harewood, Nash did well again to gather his left-foot attempt at the second time of asking.
The Hammers had to wait six more minutes to take the lead. Harewood put Etherington clear on the left, and when the former Spurs man crossed Davis slipped at the vital moment, allowing Zamora to steer a shot into the bottom-right corner from eight yards. Preston tried to respond. In the 64th minute, Nugent ran at the West Ham defence and created space for himself, but shot too close to Hammers goalkeeper Jimmy Walker. And three minutes later, Cresswell volleyed wide from the edge of the area after Nugent had headed the ball intelligently into his path. Pardew was involved in an angry exchange with Mawene 12 minutes from time, the West Ham manager believing that Preston should have kicked the ball out of play immediately after Newton went down with cramp inside the North End area. Two minutes later, Cresswell headed Lewis' left-wing corner straight into the arms of Walker, who was forced off in the 88th minute after falling awkwardly. Substitute 'keeper Bywater then saved McKenna's driven free-kick, and Ward hooked a Matt Hill cross clear as West Ham secured a return to the top flight.
The latest play-off semi-final played this May saw the Hammers cruise through to their third play-off final in eight years. A comfortable 5-0 aggregate win over Cardiff has taken West Ham to the play-off final to be held at Wembley on Saturday May 19th. The first time the club will have played at Wembley since 1981’s League Cup final against Liverpool.
In the 1st leg of the play-off semi-final West Ham maintained their superb away form with a 2-0 victory. Both goals were scored in the first half courtesy of defender Jack Collison (9 & 41 mins). Upton Park’s 2nd leg saw West Ham stretch their aggregate lead to 4-0 by half time. Skipper Nolan and Vaz Te added goals in the 15th and 40th minutes respectively. Though the 34,682 crowd had to wait until the 90th minute for the tie’s final goal. Substitute Nicky Maynard scored West Ham’s 3rd goal.
2011-012 : npower Championship
Cardiff City Stadium : Semi-Final 1st leg
2 - 0 (Collison 2)
3rd May 2012
Upton Park : Semi-Final 2nd leg
3 - 0 (Nolan, Vaz Te, Maynard)
7th May 2012
Ricardo Vaz Te's late strike fired West Ham back to the Barclays Premier League with a 2-1 victory over Blackpool in the npower Championship play-off final at Wembley. The Portuguese forward, a bargain £500,000 January signing from Barnsley, earned the Hammers an estimated £90million windfall with the goal which sank Blackpool. Boss Sam Allardyce vowed to take the club back to what he calls the Promised Land at the first attempt following last season's relegation, and he was as good as his word as his side saw off Ian Holloway's play-off specialists.
Carlton Cole had given them the lead in the first half, but Thomas Ince showed he has inherited his dad Paul's uncanny knack of irritating West Ham's fans when he equalised just after the break. However, after an end-to-end second half it was Blackpool, who were unbeaten in their previous 11 play-off matches, who cracked as Vaz Te rifled in the winner four minutes from time. They may have been short-priced favourites having put eight goals past Blackpool in their league meetings this season, but West Ham looked extremely twitchy in the opening stages. After just three minutes Matt Taylor's attempt to chest the ball back to Robert Green fell short and Stephen Dobbie sneaked in behind the left-back. Fortunately for Taylor, the angle was tight and Dobbie's shot was kept out by a combination of Green and the near post. Matt Phillips then twice squandered glorious opportunities to put the Seasiders ahead. The winger latched onto a ball over the top only to shoot weakly at Green, and passed up an even better chance moments later when Guy Demel slipped, allowing him time to curl a shot narrowly wide. West Ham eventually settled into the game and a slick move between Cole, Gary O'Neil and Vaz Te ended with the latter
hitting the side-netting. Cole then headed O'Neil's cross over before Jack Collison curled a shot just too high. And the goal West Ham had been threatening arrived in the 33rd minute when Taylor robbed Ince and charged down the left before sending a cross towards Cole. The striker took the ball in his stride, held off the challenge of Seasiders defender Ian Evatt and swept the ball past Matt Gilks and into the net. Vaz Te could have doubled the lead before half-time but he dragged his shot wide.
Instead, two minutes after the restart Blackpool hit the Hammers with a sucker-punch. Cole gave the ball away near the halfway line and Matt Phillips raced forward before swinging in a diagonal cross over the heads of the West Ham defence and right to the feet of Ince. The winger, whose every touch was jeered by the Hammers fans who never forgave Ince senior for the manner in which he left the club some 23 years ago, still had plenty to do. But he found a superb finish his dad would have been proud of, firing the ball across Green and inside the far post. With West Ham reeling, Blackpool almost went ahead moments later when Kevin Phillips played in Alex Baptiste, who dinked the ball over Green only for Taylor to clear the danger on the line. Back came West Ham and Collison poked Taylor's low cross wide before Gilks made a fine save low down to deny Cole, while at the other end Dobbie missed his kick in front of goal and also forced a fingertip save from Green.
The Hammers were inches away from taking the lead again when substitute George McCartney overlapped down the left and crossed for Nolan, whose first-time volley was tipped onto the crossbar by Gilks. But the winner arrived four minutes from time in the most dramatic of fashion. Nolan crossed from the left and Cole's attempt was blocked by Gilks but the ball fell kindly for Vaz Te, who crashed it over the grounded Gilks and into the roof of the net.
Come on you Irons!!
West Ham are back in the Premiership.
Steve Marsh with the Play-Off Trophy