Classic Match

In the fifth edition of our weekly Classic Match series, we delve deep into the archives once more to take you through another memorable West Ham United clash from almost six years ago to the very day, when the opponents were Blackpool on a very special afternoon in club history.

Cast your minds back to the late spring of 2012, “R.I.P.” by Rita Ora featuring Tinie Tempah was at the very summit of the United Kingdom Music Charts and the Olympic Flame’s tour around Britain ahead of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, had just begun.

Meanwhile, in the world of football, and more specifically, the second tier of English football, the Championship, Sam Allardyce was preparing his West Ham United side for their biggest game of his reign so far, the 2012 Championship play-off final.

Their opponents on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Wembley would be Blackpool and they headed into the clash full of confidence after defeating Cardiff City 11 days previously, in the second leg of the play-off semi-final, having finished third in the 2011/2012 standings.

Over both legs, the Hammers overcame the Blues 5-0 on aggregate, defeating them 0-2 at the Cardiff City Stadium in the first-leg this was after they missed out on automatic promotion on the final day of the regular season despite beating Hull City.

Whereas, Ian Holloway’s Tangerines were never in with a sniff of automatic promotion during the Championship campaign, sealing a fifth-place finish, ahead of Cardiff on goal difference, with a final day draw at the hands of Millwall.

Last time out, playing their semi-final second leg a day later than West Ham, they scored a 2-2 draw against Birmingham City at St Andrew’s, which was enough to see them through by the skin on their teeth, having bested the Blues 1-0 at Bloomfield Road in the first leg.

This momentous occasion would be the third encounter of the season between the two sides and on both previous occasions, Allardyce’s men netted four goals and claimed the three points, 4-0 at Upton Park in the first half of the term and then, 1-4 in Blackpool in the second half.

The final was to be played out on a fresh May day at Wembley Stadium, Saturday 19 May 2012, with a near capacity crowd expected and a clash to remember in the offing.

When the two starting Xls were announced an hour ahead of the 3 PM BST kick-off, at 2 PM, the danger men could be clearly spotted in both sides, the players with the capabilities to impact the match profoundly.

For the Lancashire outfit, these included the likes of son of Paul, Thomas Ince, a winger, and speedy Scottish attacker Matt Phillips, while for the team from East London, names such as Ricardo Vaz Te, in the form of his life, and prolific captain Kevin Nolan fitted this billing.

When the game could finally get underway, after a rendition of the national anthem and a short opening ceremony, the atmosphere inside Wembley Stadium, 78,000 fans, was deafening.

The match that unfolded it, an end-to-end contest, matched it in every way, despite some early nerves from both sets of players, it would be a historic final, which went down to the wire.

The early exchanges were relatively even, but if any team had the slight edge and deserved to be ahead before the break, it was West Ham and they got what they deserved.

The advance of Ince on the right flank for the Tangerines was halted by Matthew Taylor, who then proceeded to get his own team on the attack with a clever run of his own down the left.

Having worked his way into the Blackpool half and got himself into a promising position, he looked for a looped through-ball over the top and found striker Carlton Cole with one.

The ex-England international controlled the ball excellently and fired a half-volley past goalkeeper Matt Gilks, his 15th of the campaign in the league and perhaps the most important.

The well-taken goal sent the Claret & Blue Army, occupying all of the opposite end and also some of the Blackpool end due to additional seating demands, into delirium.

And it could have been better for the away side before the break if Vaz Te had done what he had managed excellently since joining from Barnsley in the January transfer window, in converting an excellent chance on the stroke of half-time.

But, the scoreline stayed the same heading into the break with Allardyce the much happier of the two managers, it may not have been overly-convincing from the Hammers, but, they had the one thing that mattered, the lead, by one goal.

For how long could they keep it in the second period though? Would they be able to hold on for the richest prize in football, entry to the Premier League they had been relegated from, the season before? Or would Blackpool draw level and threaten a shock? Those questions would be answered minutes into the second 45 minutes.

A mere three minutes after the restart, a hopeful ball forward picked out the ever-present Ince to run beyond Hammers defender Winston Reid and finish low beyond goalkeeper Robert Green, into the far corner.

The strike was almost a carbon copy of the goal Cole scored to put the East Londoners ahead originally, but now, things had been levelled up and put in place for a grandstand finish.

A grandstand finish was exactly what the Wembley faithful got and after skipper Nolan nearly won it for the visitors less than 20 minutes from time striking the bar, the former Bolton Wanderers man had a huge part to play when the Hammers did win it in the 89th minute.

His run, off a Jack Collison pass and low delivery into the box found its way to Cole, adding an assist to his opener, in sliding the ball away from Gilks and into the space on his left.

There to meet it was none other than Vaz Te, arriving on the scene to blast the ball into the roof of the net and raise the roof on the new stadium, wildly celebrating right in front of the vocal Claret & Blue Army.

While the Hammers initially thought this was going to be enough for a place in the PL next season, first, it had created a nervy final few minutes, in which some frantic defending awaited.

The Seasiders came at the Hammers in their droves, unable to break down Allardyce’s defender and add to the drama of a late leveller and so, the play-off crown would be placed on a West Ham head instead.

After a long and toiling campaign, instant promotion had been secured by the Irons with the famous 2-1 victory, getting back to the big time of the English Top-Flight the hard way, where they have remained until this day.

As for Blackpool, that Sunny afternoon would be the first of many nightmarish days ahead for them as they suffered, amid financial trouble, two relegations, the first down to League One and the second down to League Two, where they currently reside today.