Sam Allardyce hails 'terrific season' after Hammers book final ticket
West Ham United 3 Cardiff City 0
The only regret is that they did not play like this sooner. West Ham United delivered arguably their best home performance of the season yesterday, beating Cardiff City 3-0 and securing their place in the Championship play-off final at Wembley – with the £90m riches on offer for promotion to the Premier League.
Even the aggregate scoreline of 5-0 does not fully convey West Ham's dominance. They were exceptional here, attacking with a confidence and fluidity far removed from much on show at the Boleyn Ground this season. At no point yesterday could any West Ham fan have been making alternative plans for 19 May, such was their comfort.
The shame, from West Ham's perspective, is that this was only their 12th home league win from twice as many attempts. Had they played like this at home all year they would be on the beach now, with, presumably, Southampton still playing for promotion.
"It has been a terrific season," Sam Allardyce said afterwards. "The disappointment is that, had we been a little luckier and a little bit more careful with some of the home results, we'd have got the automatic [promotion]."
But that is in the past and the West Ham manager was understandably thrilled. "The start was outstanding," he said. "The first goal was very important, and from there on it was a case of the lads keeping control of what they already had. We won the game in fantastic style with a great, great performance, and two scintillating goals from Ricardo Vaz Te and Nicky Maynard."
This performance, combined with the 2-0 win in Cardiff last week, formed a perfect demonstration of how play-offs should be approached: with assurance, discipline and timing. "You can't ask for any more than what the players have delivered under enormous pressure," Allardyce said. "There's been no nerves from the players, there's been no anxiety. There's been very few mistakes made, and there's been a lot of quality about our football, and a lot of desire and determination to make sure we get where we want to go."
Cardiff City will not be going to Wembley, but in truth they never looked as if they would be. At no point did they appear likely to score the two goals they needed at kick-off, never mind the three, four, or the five-goal margin they lost by. Their manager, Malky Mackay, said afterwards that he "knew it was going to be tough". Had Cardiff scored first it might have been a different afternoon, but they never had the chance.
From the outset West Ham's superiority was obvious. When, in the third minute, Carlton Cole shrugged off Ben Turner to reach Jack Collison's pass, it set the tone. West Ham were stronger, brisker and more assertive throughout.
Collison started at the top of Allardyce's diamond, linking their robust midfield of Mark Noble, Kevin Nolan and Gary O'Neil with the forwards Cole and Vaz Te. It worked perfectly; with West Ham attacking with numbers and purpose. The worry for West Ham will be that Collison was forced off early in the second half with a dislocated shoulder. He will have an MRI scan in the hope of making the final.
Set pieces remain the great strength of this well-drilled, well-built side, and this was how they went ahead. Taylor whipped in a corner, Cole headed it at the near post, and Nolan finalised proceedings from one yard out.
The roar was as loud as the Boleyn Ground has been this year. Even with 75 minutes left the tie felt over.
West Ham proceeded with the licence of a team who felt this too: the influential Collison clipped a pass through to O'Neil, who hooked a volley over David Marshall and on to the bar. There was more confidence in that one move than there has been in many West Ham home performances this season.
The superiority was enough to induce cheering of every pass, even after just 38 minutes. But it was not hubristic, as West Ham passed their way to a second goal and a certain ticket.
A long string of passes climaxed with O'Neil finding Demel, who played the ball through to Vaz Te. Stephen McPhail charged out but misjudged his tackle, Vaz Te had the time to whip the ball into the far top corner.
Only in the final 10 minutes did West Ham choose to increase the pace again, because they could. Cole shuffled past two tackles and played in Taylor, whose chip did not quite rise over Marshall.
But West Ham did find that third goal they wanted, two minutes from the end. Lansbury, increasingly influential in midfield, slid a perfect pass between Andrew Taylor and Turner, on to which Nicky Maynard ran, and fired in.
West Ham United (4-1-2-1-2): Green; Demel, Tomkins, Reid, Taylor; Noble; O'Neil, Nolan (McCartney, 68); Collison (Lansbury, 49); Cole (Maynard, 86), Vaz Te. Substitutes not used Henderson, Faubert.
Cardiff City (4-4-2): Marshall; McNaughton, Hudson, Turner, Taylor; Lawrence, Gunnarsson, McPhail (Cowie, 76), Whittingham; Miller (Kiss, 76), Mason. Substitutes not used Heaton, Earnshaw, Blake.
Referee M Dean (Wirral).
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