West Ham ready to return to the promised land
The Hammers go into Saturday’s �90million Championship play-off final showdown with Blackpool at Wembley knowing that only victory will do
It is the biggest game in West Ham’s history since the 2006 FA Cup Final and 40,000 Hammers fans will descend on Wembley at the weekend for what they hope will be a return to the promised land.
And West Ham skipper Kevin Nolan knows exactly what Saturday’s play-off final against Blackpool means to every fan.
“They call it the richest game in history and it is because the prizes at the end of it are absolutely fantastic for everyone,” said Nolan.
“It is a great feeling to know that if you win, you are going into the Premier League, you have played at a fantastic stadium and you’ve had a great day.”
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For former West Ham Academy boy James Tomkins the nerves are already beginning to jangle.
“I think I will have a few sleepless nights this week just because of the excitement,” he revealed.
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“The excitement will be there all week, but on Saturday it will hit a peak when that whistle goes, but it is all about preparation and we are all looking forward to the game, not just myself.”
Winger Matt Taylor attempted to put a lid on that excitement.
“Obviously we all know the importance of it, but you can’t put too much emphasis on the game itself, we have to play the game and not the atmosphere,” said Taylor.
“It is going to be a wonderful day for the club in terms of the fact that it is a trip to Wembley, but we have to make sure that as players we don’t get overawed and caught up in the excitement.”
One player hoping to be part of that excitement is midfielder Jack Collison, who injured his shoulder in the semi-final victory over Cardiff City and is still rated only a 50/50 chance to make the team at Wembley on Saturday.
But manager Sam Allardyce revealed this week that things are looking up for the 23-year-old former Academy player.
“He has a very, very good chance of making it in time,” said the boss.
“When he first did it we were thinking about surgery and being out for a long time, but he has recovered remarkably well and even joined in for training, so we are very hopeful.”
If Collison doesn’t make it, then Allardyce will choose between bringing back George McCartney at left back with Taylor moving into midfield, or drafting in Arsenal loanee Henri Lansbury.
With Blackpool an attacking team and with the threat of Matt Phillips down the right wing, he may well opt for McCartney.
For West Ham skipper Nolan he has seen it all before, having won the play-off final with Bolton back in 2001 at Cardiff.
He is keen to experience it all over again and thinks that is the least West Ham deserve to round off their season.
“I have experienced it before and you want to have it again and hopefully that is what we will be feeling at six o’clock on Saturday,” he said.
“The fans are in a great mood, everyone is celebrating and going around with big smiles on their faces.
“After the season we have had and the way we have played, it would be a crying shame if we are not celebrating on Sunday.”
Nolan may have only arrived at Upton Park at the start of the season, but he already knows just what is important to the fans.
“I am sure that on Saturday at Wembley, everyone is going to go there and give their all for West Ham United,” said the captain.
“Hopefully we will give these fans what they deserve as they have been fantastic all season long.
“It will be nice for them to go to work on Monday knowing that they will be facing their old London rivals again.”
Rubbing shoulders again with the likes of Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal – Nolan has really hit the nail on the head.
Probable West Ham Team: Green, Demel, McCartney, Tomkins, Reid, Nolan, Noble, O’Neil, Taylor, Vaz Te, Cole.
Prediction: West Ham United 3 Blackpool 1