Jack Collison added to his comeback season in style to put West Ham on the verge of the Championship play-off final with a comfortable semi-final first leg victory over Cardiff City.
The Wales midfielder, out for 14 months with a career-threatening knee injury, struck twice in the opening 45 minutes to highlight the gulf in quality between the two sides.
Collison netted his first goal as early as the ninth minute, heading home at the second attempt after Cardiff goalkeeper David Marshall saved his initial effort when he seized on Ricardo Vaz Te's left-wing cross ahead of the napping Andrew Taylor.
Then the 23-year-old rubbed salt into the wounds of the hosts by firing home a right-footed shot from the edge of the box that took a wicked deflection via the head of Liam Lawrence.
Collison said: "We are in a great position, but we're only halfway there. It was nice to get both goals, but it was a real team performance. We all dug in and I thought Coley [Carlton Cole] worked his socks off up front. We all want to be at Wembley in a couple of weeks' time."
Sam Allardyce's functional outfit were the favourites to make an instant return to the top flight, but the third-placed Hammers, surprisingly, failed to win automatic promotion. Yet despite the Cardiff manager, Malky Mackay, claiming all the pressure was on the visitors, considering his ex-club's expectations, rich financial strength and playing squad, West Ham responded with an emphatic display in the Welsh capital.
Allardyce said: "We played very well, we got it right tactically. We created chances, scored a couple and could have had more. But we're only 90 minutes into a two-legged affair and anything could still happen. The onus is on us to see it through. There is no pressure on Cardiff.
"They can come and chase what they can. Mentally, we have to be right for that. On the basis of how we have been playing recently, I would have been disappointed if we hadn't played like that.
"It's draws that have cost us," Allardyce added, "but we have only lost four matches at home. And we're in a position now where if we don't lose we're through. We want to win if we can and we want to continue to play like we did."
At the start, Cardiff flew out of the traps with a double raid on the West Ham goal. Peter Whittingham saw a 25-yard piledriver deflected over Rob Green's crossbar before the goalkeeper palmed Kenny Miller's long-range volley around his post. But the efforts from the home side only amounted to small jabs to Allardyce's defence compared to his heavyweight strikeforce, with victory sealed by Collison's two goals.
Mackay said: "We are disappointed with our defending for the first goal. Three of our players could have changed the situation. The second goal is nothing other than luck.
"But 2-0 is a dangerous scoreline for West Ham. We have to make sure we go there and give a good account of ourselves."
Cardiff City (4-4-1-1): Marshall; Blake, Hudson, Turner, Taylor; Lawrence, Whittingham, Gunnarsson, Cowie (McPhail, 74); Miller (Earnshaw, 74), Mason. Substitutes not used Heaton (gk), Kiss, Gerrard.
West Ham United (4-4-2): Green; Demel (Faubert, 75), Reid, Tomkins, Taylor; Collison (Maynard, 86), Nolan, Noble, O'Neil; Vaz Te (McCartney, 61), Cole. Substitutes not used Henderson (gk), Faye.
Referee N Swarbrick (Lancashire).