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Championship Play-Off Second Leg: West Ham United 3 Cardiff City 0

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The Hammers are just 90 nerve-wracking minutes away from an instant return to the promised land of the Premier League following this wonderful win at sold-out Upton Park, where an ecstatic East End roared them every step of the way to Wembley.

With the winged Bluebirds already trailing to Jack Collison’s destructive double at Cardiff four days earlier, this had certainly been the in-form Hammers game to lose.

And thankfully, they did not disappoint as Kevin Nolan headed them into a 15th-minute lead before Ricardo Vaz Te doubled the lead before the break and substitute Nicky Maynard struck in the dying seconds to set up a Play-Off Final place on Saturday 19 May.

Succumbing to just a single defeat – albeit a costly one at home to champions Reading – in a 19-match run stretching back to early February, third-placed West Ham had finished 11 points ahead of Cardiff in sixth-spot.

And following Thursday’s thrilling first-leg victory, Sam Allardyce had named an unchanged team in his quest to make to face either Blackpool or Birmingham City on Saturday week.

With the sun finally coming out to shine through the showers, West Ham certainly started brightly as both Vaz Te and Carlton Cole sent early efforts wide in an electrifying East End atmosphere.

Although a 10-match unbeaten streak had taken City into the play-off spots, West Ham’s 2-0 win in Wales had left Malky Mackay’s men with a mountain to climb and the ex-Hammer made two switches as Stephen McPhail and fit-again Kevin McNaughton came in for substitutes Don Cowie and Darcy Blake.

With 10 minutes on referee Mike Dean’s watch, Kenny Miller’s appeal for a trip by Winston Reid fell on the deaf ears of the official and having seen that penalty appeal waved away, Mark Hudson then weakly nodded Aron Gunnarsson’s long-throw into Robert Green’s gloves.

The first goal was always going to be the vital one and, on the quarter-hour mark, it was West Ham, who notched it, when Matthew Taylor floated the first corner of the afternoon into the six-yard box, where Cole’s header was deflected into the path of Nolan, who nodded home at the far post.

The skipper’s timely 13th goal of the season certainly eased any Boleyn Ground jitters and, just seconds later, Collison’s cross was hooked onto shell-shocked Cardiff’s crossbar by the back-peddling Gary O’Neil.

After the frustrated Miller was booked for dissent, O’Neil went close again when he strode onto the breaking Vaz Te’s cut-back but this time David Marshall produced a fantastic, full-length, flying save to prevent West Ham from increasing the aggregate advantage to four goals.

But five minutes before the break, the Savile Row tailors were sent scurrying to make the Wembley suits, when the impressive Guy Demel played in Vaz Te, who out-muscled McPhail before riding Hudson’s desperate lunge and unleashing an unstoppable, angled 15-yarder beyond the Cardiff ‘keeper and into the far corner to claim an 11th goal since his January transfer deadline day arrival from Barnsley.

Facing mission impossible, the Bluebirds flew from their half-time dressing room team-talk a fair few minutes before Big Sam’s side emerged on the pitch for the restart and the Welshman’s sudden desire to do battle saw poor Collison trudge away holding his shoulder following a juddering tackle by the unpunished Ben Turner.

With Henri Lansbury now replacing the hero of the first-leg, the vanishing Vaz Te then found himself upended by a last-gasp lunge from the consequently-cautioned Hudson, while Reid was also booked for tripping McNaughton.

A double-substitution then saw Cowie and Filip Kiss emerge for the final quarter-hour of an untidy, uneventful second half but the clock and those four goals over the two legs had already put paid to Cardiff’s hopes of a miraculous comeback.

And with the inevitable chants of ‘Bubbles’ and ‘Wembley’ ringing around the Boleyn Ground, substitute Maynard raced on to Lansbury’s 89th-minute throughball to cement that pass to the Play-Off Final with a scorching 15-yarder that simply gave Marshall no chance.

HAMMERS: Green, Demel, Taylor M, Tomkins, Reid, Collison (Lansbury 48), O’Neil, Nolan (McCartney 69), Noble, Vaz Te, Cole (Maynard 86). Unused subs: Henderson, Faubert.

BLUEBIRDS: Marshall, McNaughton (Blake 81), Taylor A. Hudson, Turner, Whittingham, Lawrence, Gunnarsson, McPhail (Cowie 76), Miller (Kiss 76), Mason: Unused subs: Heaton, Earnshaw.

Bookings: Miller (28), Hudson (50), Reid (68), Whittingham (79).

Referee: Mike Dean

Attendance: 34, 682

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