Filed: Sunday, 20th May 2012
By: Staff Writer
Sam Allardyce has earned more than his fair share of detractors over the past eleven months - but deserves all the plaudits now after leading West Ham back to the Premier League at the first attempt.
Many have criticised his style of play - and many have said all along that's he's the wrong man for a club like West Ham. But there can be no complaints tonight after Allardyce completed the task he was set last June by taking United back into the top flight at the first time of asking.
The 2011/12 season has been a thoroughly enjoyable one in so many ways - so much so that many fans will be sad to wave goodbye to the Championship. An incredible 15 wins away from Upton Park, a record that may never be bettered, culminating with an appearance at Wembley will leave many with fond memories of the last nine months.
However the harsh realities of the club's precarious financial position meant that a return to the Premier League was essential were the club to continue to prosper and to hang on to precocious young talents such as James Tomkins and Ricardo Vaz Te - whose goal with just three minutes of normal time remaining won the day.
Today's Final produced a nervy performance from West Ham, who have been magnificent in recent weeks but reverted to their mid-season form for much of the game. The free-flowing football that has been highly-evident in recent weeks was rarely produced and for long periods it looked like an upset akin to that which saw the Irons beaten by Crystal Palace at the same stage in 2004 was on the cards.
Indeed, underdogs Blackpool were the better side for much of the game and in all truth, Ian Holloway probably won the battle of the managers with a tactical approach that frustrated West Ham whilst affording them numerous opportunities to win the game. But in the end West Ham's return to the Premier League came down to one thing and one thing only - they took their chances, whilst the Tangerines failed to make the most of theirs.
Whilst United struggled to work Matt Gilks - of 12 attempts on goal, only four were on target and two of those resulted in a goal - Blackpool provided a more constant threat throughout the game. There were just three minutes on the clock when Stephen Dobbie, who had been outlined as one of Blackpool's major threats, hit the post from close range after easing off the challenge of Matt Taylor.
As the Hammers struggled to get to grips with a wide - and obviously well-watered - Wembley pitch, 'Pool almost profited once again when Matt Phillips was sent through on goal just ahead of the quarter-hour mark. Having left Guy Demel for dust, the 21-year-old had just Rob Green to beat but appeared to suffer from a lack of conviction as he shot early and straight at the England 'keeper.
And it was a similar story less than a minute later after Demel was again left flat-footed allowing the youngster to get in behind him, but once again Phillips' nerves appeared to get the better of him as his attempted curler missed the goal completely. Yet another let-off for the Hammers, who could have been 3-0 down already.
It took 20 minutes to arrive, but finally Allardyce's side carved out a decent opportunity. Matt Taylor released Ricardo Vaz Te who found the ball back at his feet via Carlton Cole. Although the Portuguese forward, who has been in scintillating form of late, found the net it was the wrong side and Blackpool were considering themselves somewhat fortunate not to have conceded for the first time.
A nervy quarter-of-an-hour followed with a smattering of half chances for both sides. Then, with ten minutes of the half remaining Matt Taylor won the ball deep in his own half before setting off on a foraging run.
Somewhat fortuitous to find the ball coming back to him from a ricochet on the half way line, Taylor continued down the flank before chipping the ball towards an advancing Carlton Cole. The striker's neat touch gave him the perfect opportunity to steady himself before firing across Gilks into the far corner to give West Ham a priceless lead; Wembley, full of somewhere in the region of 45,000 Hammers fans, erupted.
It could - and should - have been 2-0 two minutes later when Mark Noble lifted a delicious ball behind the Blackpool defence into the path of Vaz Te. However with the goal at his mercy the forward once again failed to find the target, firing wide of the left hand post. It was a major let-off for Blackpool who were living up to their pre-match billing as underdogs for the first time.
No doubt Sam Allardyce would have told his side that it would be crucial to ensure they kept things tight for the opening few minutes of the second half. But his side immediately handed the impetus to their opponents when falling for a sucker punch just two minutes after the restart.
Carlton Cole gave the ball away needlessly on the half way line and one of those long, diagonal balls that were core to Blackpool's tactical approach on the day found its way towards young Thomas Ince, son of former Hammer Paul. Young Ince allowed the ball to drop over his shoulder before firing across Green into the far corner to level the scores.
At sixes and sevens, West Ham were inches away from falling behind two minutes later when Alex Baptiste forced a goal line clearance from Matt Taylor. Having forced his way through West Ham's creaking defence the centre half lifted the ball over an advancing Rob Green only to find Taylor alert enough to thump the ball away from the danger zone from underneath the crossbar.
Sam Allardyce, sensing that immediate action was required in order to stem the flow responded by introduced George McCartney at full back, whilst Gary O'Neil was substituted to allow for Taylor to move into a more advanced position. Guy Demel, who took a knock shortly after was also replaced (by Julien Faubert) as West Ham's 'Plan B' came into effect.
Still West Ham, badly hurt by having conceded the equaliser, needed a lift - and that came on 63 minutes when Cole forced a smart save from Gilks. Faubert's low centre found the striker who turned smartly before angling an effort low towards goal but Gilks was equal to it, turning the shot around the post.
The West Ham end, which had been strangely subdued up until that point found its voice for the first time since the restart, but it was quietened again when danger-man Dobbie missed yet another golden opportunity for the Seasiders.
Neal Eardley, released on the right cut the ball back to find the on-loan Dobbie - who fluffed his lines and saw hit mis-hit effort roll harmlessly wide of its intended target. It was another huge let-off for West Ham - as it was two minutes later when Noble was forced to hack Evatt's goal bound effort from an Ince corner clear.
West Ham were once again being worked all over the park and a good passage of play by the Tangerines culminated with a Dobbie effort that forced a smart save from Green, who tipped the effort round the post. United were looking anything but yet crucially, they were still, somehow, on level terms.
Sensing the teams frailty and lack of cohesion, the 40,000-string claret and blue contingent burst into a chorus of 'Come on you Irons' an attempt to lift their team. It resulted in a half-chance for Jack Collison who twisted and turned on the edge of the penalty area before firing over the bar. It may not have tested Gilks, but crucially, it lifted the crowd.
West Ham, lifted by the extra effort from the terraces responded magnificently and were just inches away from restoring their lead two minutes later when Kevin Nolan sent an effort crashing off the crossbar. Some good work on the left between McCartney and Taylor saw the ball fall to the Hammers captain whose volley beat Gilks, but not the woodwork.
A nervy ten minutes followed and naturally perhaps, both sides had one eye on extra time. But that extra time never arrived thanks to the right boot of a man who, just four months earlier, had been playing his football for Barnsley.
Brought to England by Sam Allardyce as a 16-year-old, Ricardo Vaz Te, having been released by Bolton Wanderers two years ago had spent time in Scotland with Hibernian before trying his luck south of the border once again when joining Barnsley on a one-year contract last summer.
Having found his shooting boots once again, the 25-year-old - who hit 12 goals in 14 starts for the Tykes - was reunited with his mentor when moving to the Boleyn Ground in the January transfer window for a giveaway £750,000. And with three minutes of normal time remaining at Wembley, Vaz Te booked his place in West Ham's history books by scoring the goal that took the Hammers back to the Premier League after just one season away.
The move that led to the £90million strike began with a Blackpool goal kick that was won by Winston Reid. His header was sent back by Baptiste but cut out by Mark Noble who pushed the ball down the left flank for captain Nolan to chase. His low cross was turned towards goal by Cole but the striker pushed it too far towards 'keeper Gilks.
But just before Gilks could fall on the ball a last, desperate lunge by Cole pushed the ball wide of the 'keeper. As every Hammers fan in Wembley held their breath, Vaz Te pounced to send it crashing into the roof of the net and send West Ham back into the Premier League.
Four minutes of added-on time produced little of note despite Ian Holloway throwing on his last two substitutes in a final gamble and Wembley erupted as Howard Webb blew the final whistle thereby guaranteeing West Ham's place in the 2012/13 season Premier League. Captain Kevin Nolan climbed the steps to collect the winners' trophy and in doing so, became the first Hammer since Billy Bonds way back in 1980 to lift silverware at the home of English football.
The game itself had proved to be a microcosm of West Ham's 2011/12 campaign. Much of it had been ugly, unimpressive and frustrating but there were shades of brilliance too - and when it was needed most, Allardyce's team pulled together to deliver. How very un-West Ham.
Although the celebrations will undoubtedly continue for some days, the manager - who admitted after the game that his team had been second best for much of it - now faces a second successive summer of transforming his squad. This time, one fit for the Premier League.
And who could possible deny him the opportunity of leading West Ham out at the Boleyn Ground next season, after a year in which he finally silenced his critics having taken West Ham back to the promised land at the first time of asking.
West Ham Utd 4-2 Reading [19th May 2013]
Oh I do like to be beside the seaside [25th Mar 2013]
These boots were made for winning [22nd Jan 2013]
Redknapp on... West Ham United [20th Jan 2013]
Play-off final replay on the cards [6th Jan 2013]
Collison aiming for speedy return [18th Dec 2012]
Guy calls it a day [6th Dec 2012]
FA Cup draw: Man Utd await [2nd Dec 2012]
Competition: win a season review DVD! [26th Nov 2012]
by Haim Baram
09:37AM 22nd May 2012
''I haven't changed my views about football and about Big Sam, but I still share the sentiment. I went to Wembley on Saturday, flew from Jerusalem especially for the big day, and felt again like a member of a primordial tribe, just like I did in the 1964 Cup Final.
Well done, lads. There will be time for rational debatesand thoughtful articles, but now a primitive victory dance is the order of the day!''
07:40PM 21st May 2012
''It was a truly wonderful experience. Our fans sung their hearts out and were exemplary. Birthday, Easter, Christmas all in one. Thanks BSA, Sully and Gold - and of course, our players.''
01:00PM 21st May 2012
''A great day for us Hammers fans all over the world. All credit to the team, Big Sam and staff. We rode our luck at times but it's about taking your chances. Great goal from Cole, Prem class all over it.
So relieved when Vaz Te got the winner, I couldn't handle extra time and pens. We never do it the easy way, lol.''
04:19PM 20th May 2012
''Congrats to the lads for their hard work this season! Pipped to automatic promotion by a freaky run of form by Reading (I think they will struggle next season actually..) our boys never gave up and got what they deserved. Promotion!
Thanks Big Sam, you're EXACTLY what this club needs! COYI.''
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