Jack Collison scored twice as West Ham United inched closer to bouncing straight back to the English Premier League with a 2-0 win away to Cardiff City in the first leg of their Championship playoff semi-final on Thursday.
Collison gave the London club a ninth-minute lead when he followed up from close range after his initial effort was palmed away by Cardiff goalkeeper David Marshall after good work out on the left by Ricardo Vaz Te.
Collison doubled the Hammers’ advantage four minutes before halftime when his shot from long-range deflected in off the head of Cardiff’s Liam Lawrence to leave Marshall stranded.
The clubs meet for the second leg at West Ham’s Upton Park on Monday.
“There’s no pressure on Cardiff and they’ll try to claw back anything they can, and so we’ve got to be mentally right for that,” West Ham manager Sam Allardyce told Sky Sports. “On the basis of how we’ve been playing, I would have been disappointed if we hadn’t performed like we did tonight. The clean sheet and two goals is everything we were looking for. We were excellent and handled the pressure really well.”
Cardiff manager Malky Mackay felt his side were unlucky not to score at least once.
“We had three or four good chances and things were cleared off the line or just the wrong side of the post. We created enough,” Mackay said. “Their first goal was poor defending from us at three points and the second is complete random luck.”
Championship winners Reading and runners-up Southampton claimed the two automatic promotion places on offer and are assured of playing in the lucrative Premier League next season, but the four clubs immediately below the Saints must battle for the one remaining spot in the top flight via the playoffs, which culminate with a final at Wembley Stadium on May 19.
Although West Ham — who finished third — have struggled at home this season, Cardiff now face the prospect of more playoff heartache after having lost in the semi-finals to Reading last season after being beaten in the 2010 playoff final by Blackpool.
The other playoff semi-final sees Blackpool at home to Birmingham City, with both clubs eyeing a swift return to the Premier League following relegation last season.