Dailly strikes to secure West Ham's final chance

West Ham United 2 Ipswich Town 0 <i>West Ham win 2-1 on agg</i>
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The Independent Football

Christian Dailly claimed yesterday that he would be happy playing in the Third Division as long as it was with West Ham where his future is in doubt. Well he might have to re-adjust his sights towards the Premiership as the captain scored the goal 19 minutes from time that sent the Hammers into the First Division play-off final - and a London derby against Crystal Palace - on Bank Holiday Saturday.

Christian Dailly claimed yesterday that he would be happy playing in the Third Division as long as it was with West Ham where his future is in doubt. Well he might have to re-adjust his sights towards the Premiership as the captain scored the goal 19 minutes from time that sent the Hammers into the First Division play-off final - and a London derby against Crystal Palace - on Bank Holiday Saturday.

That game will decide whether the east Londoners, whose fans would have been blowing more than a few bubbles into the small hours of last night, can make an instant return after just one season out of the top flight. Either way, Alan Pardew knows the importance of what is coming up in Cardiff and the Hammers manager was certainly not downplaying the occasion. "The play-off final is the biggest prize in English football," he said. "But the job's not done yet. I feel the teams will put on a good show."

That applied to these teams equally. Within two minutes of the start Ipswich should have taken the lead. From midfield Ian Westlake lobbed the defence and Darren Bent escaped the offside trap. With only Stephen Bywater to beat from 10 yards Bent dragged his shot wide.

The Ipswich manager, Joe Royle, claimed some of his players froze at the occasion before citing West Ham's bigger transfer budget and better performance on the night as the reasons for defeat. He said: "I've got a collection of kids, frees and loans who've done me proud. Tonight it just wasn't us. Their £1m players made the difference. I can't argue with the result." But from that Bent miss on, the Hammers showed all their self-belief inside a packed Upton Park. From being within a whisker of going 2-0 down on aggregate, the Hammers picked up their game to produce a succession of chances and arguably their best 88 minutes of attacking play in a season of inconsistent performances.

They passed the ball around slickly throughout with Michael Carrick especially prominent as the provider-in-chief. They were attacking from the flanks as well and when Matthew Etherington crossed, Steve Lomas was unlucky to hit the crossbar on the volley.

With 12 minutes gone and after persistent running from Tomas Repka, David Connolly found his strike partner Bobby Zamora but his goalbound header was turned around the post by the impressive Kelvin Davis. The keeper was back in action eight minutes later throwing himself to his right to parry a 30-yard effort from Dailly.

Ipswich took more than 20 minutes to recover from this onslaught and then went close twice in quick succession when Jermaine Wright volleyed wide. With their next attack, Bent tried his luck and should have had a penalty as Dailly used his hands to block but the referee turned a blind eye to the muted appeals.

With anxiety levels creeping up, Etherington brought the sides level after just five minutes of the second half with a memorable strike that was no less than West Ham deserved.

The former Tottenham winger received a short corner from Carrick, shaped to shoot from 20 yards out and drilled his left-footed shot inside Davis' right-hand post, giving him no chance. It was easy to believe him when he said: "I've never hit one like that before in my life." That strike, only his sixth goal since joining the Hammers last August, sent Upton Park into a frenzy of excitement and more importantly also levelled the match on aggregate.

Then came the decisive moment. As Ipswich failed, once more, to clear a corner, the ball stuck in the penalty area and Dailly tried his luck from eight yards. His shot hit Tommy Miller en route and dribbled inside the post. The Scottish international then collapsed in pain, although it was probably just as much from the shock of scoring the decisive goal as from any collision. Pardew likened him to Braveheart afterwards but with Cardiff in mind a few more Rob Roy moments might still be required.

West Ham United: (4-4-2): Bywater; Repka, Dailly, Melville, Mullins; Etherington, Carrick, Lomas, Harewood; Connolly (Reo-Coker, 83), Zamora (Deane, 57). Substitutes not used: Srnicek (gk), Brevett, McAnuff.

Ipswich Town (4-4-2): Davis; Wilnis, Elliott, Naylor, Richards; Westlake, Magilton (Reuser, 71), Miller, Wright; Bent, Kuqi (Armstrong, h-t). Substitutes not used: Price (gk), Diallo, Santos.

Referee: N Barry (North Lincs).

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