Under pressure West Ham boss: ‘There is no game like a play-off game’
Hammers manager Sam Allardyce knows that the play-off has a unique pressure all of its own as he goes into tonight’s semi-final first leg in Cardiff
West Ham boss Sam Allardyce admits he is putting his own future at risk by insisting that the Hammers will book their place in the Premier League via the play-offs.
The Hammers face a tough semi-final first-leg trip to Cardiff City tonight (Thursday), before what promises to be a daunting Bank Holiday showdown at Upton Park for the return leg on Monday.
And Allardyce knows just how vital victory is for his team, who missed out on automatic promotion on the final day of the season, despite beating Hull City 2-1.
“I’ve stuck my head on the line and said that what we wanted to do was get automatic promotion in the first season of asking, even though I’ve got a two-year contract,” admitted the manager.
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“Doing it in the first year is still very important, we’ve still got three games to win and we’ll do it.”
West Ham finished 11 points clear of Cardiff City in the final table, but the manager knows that will mean absolutely nothing when the two teams meet tomorrow night.
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“It doesn’t matter. You go into the play-offs as equals. Everybody says there’s more disappointment for the team that finishes third and sometimes that may well be the case.
“But there are times where the third team have gone through and achieved it – I did it at Bolton when I was there.”
Allardyce has been through the play-offs three times in his managerial career, winning and missing out with Bolton Wanderers and losing in the semi-final with Blackpool when he was sacked after the game.
Allardyce knows only too well the pressure that is involved in these matches.
“The pressure of the play-offs is unique in itself, as is being able to handle the experience, because there’s no other experience like it,” said the manager.
“There’s no cup game or league game that has the same atmosphere as the play-offs have, so we’ve got to handle the atmosphere and deliver on the day.”
West Ham have been installed as favourites to win promotion at Wembley on May 19, but midfielder Gary O’Neil is ignoring that.
“The favourites’ tag doesn’t mean anything to me really,” said O’Neil. “League positions don’t mean a lot and the other teams have all had decent seasons to get where they are.
“I think the play-offs are like that. In the final you only have 90 minutes to prove you should be in the Premier League, whereas over a season you have 46 games.
“That’s why it is a bit of a lottery, but hopefully the quality and experience we have should get us through.”
O’Neil is battling to be fit after suffering a whack against Hull City on the ankle that so nearly ended his career.
Kevin Nolan suffered a dead leg on Saturday, but should come through, while Allardyce must choose between Guy Demel and Julien Faubert for the right back spot as well as Henri Lansbury or Jack Collison in midfield.