West Ham United edged closer to a Premier League return with a 3-0 home win over Cardiff City on Monday, completing a 5-0 semi-final aggregate triumph to ease into the Championship playoff final.
Kevin Nolan and Ricardo Vaz Te scored in the first half and a late Nicky Maynard strike sealed a crushing win for the east London club, who were relegated from the top flight a year ago.
Nolan, who took the tie away from Cardiff with a close-range header after 15 minutes following appeals for a penalty by the away side, was blunt in his assessment of the semi-final.
“Over the two ties Cardiff can’t have any qualms about it, we were the better side,” the former Newcastle United and Bolton Wanderers midfielder told Sky Sports.
While Nolan’s goal was scrappy, Vaz Te’s shot five minutes before halftime from long range delighted the home fans and Maynard’s bullet strike on 90 minutes only increased the volume inside Upton Park.
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce called for more of the same on May 19, when his team battle for a place in the Premier League at Wembley Satdium against Blackpool or Birmingham City, who also went down from the Premier League last season.
“To see the West Ham fans there filling one half of that stadium is going to be pretty special and I hope we can all come out at the end of it with what we all hope for,” he told the club’s Web site. “We have a huge opportunity to get into the golden league, not for the money from my point of view, but because that is where it all happens.”
The Championship final is known as the richest game in soccer, as the financial reward for promotion to the Premier League is enormous.
Allardyce is hoping the expectation levels will not weigh too heavily on his and the players’ shoulders.
“It is big pressure for us. We are probably going to be favorites and we have to live with that. Hopefully the players can look forward to it and deliver another outstanding performance,” Allardyce said.
Blackpool take a 1-0 lead into their game at Birmingham City today.