West Ham head for play-offs despite win over Hull
Championship: West Ham 2 Hull City 1
Southampton’s inevitable win over an already-relegated Coventry City meant that this victory sadly counted for nothing at rain-lashed Upton Park, where West Ham United were forced to settle for third place.
Carlton Cole may have taken his place at the top of the Hammers goal charts with a match-winning double that took his season’s tally to 14, before Corry Evans was gifted a late consolation, but Sam Allardyce still left the dug-out knowing that Cardiff and then, possibly, Blackpool or Birmingham City, now stand in the way of a return to the promised land of the Premier League, via the precarious path of the play-offs.
With second-spot Southampton two points, three goals and an 85-83 scoreline ahead, Big Sam’s side already needed a footballing miracle if they were to secure automatic promotion.
Nevertheless, droves of claret and blue fans made the pilgrimage to Upton Park for the final fixture of the regular Championship campaign, more with blind Hammers hope than any real East End expectation of their side preventing the Saints’ from marching into the top-flight.
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Monday’s evening’s win at Leicester City had, at least, kept the Hammers automatic promotion hopes flickering and following his side’s 2-1 victory, Allardyce made just one change as Henri Lansbury replaced substitute Jack Collison.
With the just three minutes on the clock, Lansbury looked to have created a dream opener but Ricardo Vaz Te somehow nodded the recalled midfielder’s deep cross beyond the far post and then the over-excited Kevin Nolan dragged well wide from distance.
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But by the 20 minute mark, it was all but over as news of Southampton’s first two goals filtered through from the south coast to leave the Hammers faithful resigned to a defiant chant of: ‘Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be will be we’re going to Wembley.’
Hull’s victory over Nottingham Forest last weekend had still not been enough to keep their play-off hopes alive and with his side kicking off in eighth place, Nicky Barmby made two switches as Tom Cairney and Joshua King came in for Robert Koren and the benched Cameron Stewart.
Apart from a hopeful long-ranger from Liam Rosenior, though, there was little roar from the Tigers as West Ham continued to dominate proceedings and, as the half-mark approached, Lansbury wastefully volleyed high over from 12 yards.
Matty Fryatt was equally careless with a snatched effort that went for a throw-in, while Matt Taylor also launched a speculative shot high into the disappointed Hammers fans sitting in the Sir Trevor Brooking stand.
Shortly afterwards, Taylor was more accurate with a low, angled effort that Vito Mannone gratefully clawed away from the base of his near post and, seconds later, the Hull ‘keeper had to tip Nolan’s up-and-under over the crossbar.
But from the consequent corner, the Hammers finally took a 36th-minute lead, when Taylor floated the ball into the six-yard box where Cole sent his hypnotic header downwards only for Paul McKenna to scuff the ball over the his own goal-line, to give West Ham an interval advantage.
There may have been a question mark over the Hammers striker’s claim to that first effort but, within three minutes of the restart, there was nothing dubious about this 14th strike of the season, when he cleverly chested down Lansbury’s left-wing cross before volleying past the woefully exposed Mannone.
Cole then departed to appreciative applause from the home fans amongst the sell-out crowd of 35,000 as Allardyce brought on Sam Baldock and, with the manager’s mind now drifting towards the inevitability of the play-offs, Vaz Te was also rested as Nicky Maynard stepped from the bench.
Midway through the second period, Robert Green was finally called into action, when he bravely slid into the studs of Corry Evans, who did get onto the score-sheet with 10 minutes remaining when he nipped in to nod Guy Demel’s atrocious attempted defensive header over the perplexed England keeper.
With the clock ticking, ex-Hammer Richard Garcia saw his diving header ruled out by a marginal offside flag but, those late Hammer horror moments aside, West Ham had done the business in the East End monsoon, however with it raining goals at St Mary’s Stadium, Southampton’s 4-0 victory left waterlogged West Ham well and truly up Barking Creek in their quest to automatically paddle their way back to the Premier League.
Hammers: Green, Demel, Taylor, Tomkins, Reid, Noble, Nolan (McCartney 74), O’Neil, Lansbury, Vaz Te (Maynard 61), Cole (Baldock 51). Unused Subs: Collison, Faubert.
Tigers: Mannone, Rosenior, Dawson, Chester, Cooper, King (Stewart h/t ), Garcia, McKenna, Cairney (Brady 73), Evans, Fryatt. Unused Subs: Oxley, Bradley, Cullen.
Referee: Nigel Miller