West Ham United v Blackpool: Championship play-off Final

And so, for the last time this season, we visit the Avram Grant Rest Home For The Bewildered as we are proud* to present Preview Percy's Wembley Special**. As ever John Northcutt adds his statistical magic to proceedings...

(* actually we're not proud)
(** it's not that special really)

And so we move into what for me is suspiciously unpaid overtime as we face Blackpool in the play off final at the reassuringly traditional kick-off time of 3pm Saturday. The venue is, of course, Wembley Stadium and it'll be nice to see the twin towers again after all this time.

(Editors' note: at this point we had a quiet word with the old one who responded with a bellow which would have had Brian Blessed cowering in fear: WHAT? THEY DID WHAT!? We got his nurse in to give him one of his 'special' pills and after a while he was fit to carry on....)

They tell me that Wembley isn't what it used to be but at least they have a statue of Bobby Moore there to make up for the fact that the towers have gone. Not sure about this arch business though. The last time I went into a place that had an arch outside nobody came to my table and I had to get up and serve myself. Worse still, the spotty youth who took my order seemed totally confused by my request for a pot of tea and kept asking me if I wanted something called "fries" with my order.

Our opponents this weekend arrived at the play-offs by finishing in fifth place in the league, level on points but seven goals better off on goal difference than our own semi-final opponents Cardiff City. The Seasiders' 75 points placed them one point behind their semi-final opponents Birmingham and eleven behind our good selves.

Their semi-final was a much tighter affair than our own turned out to be. They edged the first leg 1-0 courtesy of a Tom "son of he who must not be named" Ince effort that took a rather fortunate deflection. Birmingham came at them in the second leg but Marlon King proved to be as ignorant of the offside law as he appears to have been of every other law he's had to face in recent years.

More composed on the break, Blackpool took a 2-0 lead on the night with goals from Dobbie and Phillips (M) making it 3-0 on aggregate. However, two goals in ten minutes from Zigic and Davies restored the cat to its place amongst the pigeons and they were hanging on a bit for the last 15 minutes.

There was an element of joy at the result here at the Avram Grant Home For The Bewildered. Not because we thought Blackpool would represent a better prospect for victory as such, more due to the fact that it gave us great pleasure to see as unpleasant a club as Birmingham miss out. However, since qualifying, some of their supporters have been trying their best to lose friends and irritate people.

There have been marked similarities between the manner in which Blackpool have approached the media side of things in the run-up to this match and that employed by Cardiff.

Cardiff, you will recall, spent the lead-up to the first match with a hymn sheet that read "West Ham are under big pressure". Admirably, our response was a shrug of the shoulders and an almost disinterested, "yeah, whatever". The gist of the pre-second leg stuff coming from Wales was that, in "giving" us a 2-0 lead they had us worried. Again, only the most professional of comments about "completing the job" came from E13 in response.

Blackpool's attempts at mind games started off low key enough. "Oh we're just the little team and nobody's giving us a chance. We'll be proud of our boys" etc etc. Fair enough while you're talking about yourselves - if a little obvious and clich?d.

However, things took a rather sad and pathetic turn over the past few days. Until this week I thought you'd be hard pressed to find a bunch of supporters as stupid as those who follow Spurs. Yes Millwall supporters have room-temperature IQs but to be fair to them that's by and large a result of years of inbreeding and they at least acknowledge their limitations.

The lot from White Hart Lane, on the other hand have no concept of just how stupid they are. The best example of this was the infamous Sir Chris Hoy incident where, even after the Scottish Olympic Legend explained to them in words of one syllable that he was in fact a Scottish Olympic Legend, rather than a Premier League referee with a different surname, they persisted in bombarding him with what I believe the youngsters call 'Tweets', moaning about his performance in the Stoke match.

It seems that some Blackpool supporters, in an attempt to look 'Premier League' have decided to ape Spurs of all teams. In an attempt to stir up faux indignation, one of their number posted a picture of a West Ham away kit on a website pointing out the Premier League badges on the sleeves. "Oh how arrogant those Cockneys are, they've got the Premier League badges on already".

It was calmly pointed out to the person who posted the original photo that the kit was two years old and the player in his photo - one Thomas Hitzlsperger, for the record - had left last summer. At this point you'd have thought that he might have held his hands up and admitted his error (or deliberate fabrication). What happened next was a piece of daftness of such thickness even Spurs supporters would look down on it and scratch their heads - with dandruff not, for once, being the excuse.

Rather than come clean, the saddo pinched one of the mock-ups that one of the members of KUMB has been designing for years. Admittedly the mock-ups are very well designed and the kit manufacturers would do well to have a look at them from time to time. However, you'd have to have had your brain removed and replaced with a small green plastic soap dish to actually believe that they were real, given the fact that they appear in a discussion thread on a fan site devoted to how kits might look.

You'd then have to have the small green plastic soap dish removed and replaced by something with even fewer synapses (say the brain of a Millwall supporter) to then replace the original photograph with the mock up and hope nobody noticed - it was, if you like his 'Hoy' moment.

To the credit of the club they have dealt with this latest minor irritation with the same classy indifference with which they treated Cardiff's pseudo-psychological claptrap. "It's complete bollocks - now if you wouldn't mind awfully buggering off and not bothering us with this rubbish there's a good chap, we're a bit busy at the moment as it's teatime and it's McCartney's turn to pop out to Sainsbury's to get the digestives..."

Ok the club's official statement was worded a bit more politely than that - and it might actually have been Vaz Te's turn to pick up the biccies - but the sentiment was there none the less.

Like Cardiff, our opponents this weekend seem to have put themselves on the back foot. All the talk in recent days has been "West Ham this" and "West Ham that" - as if by portraying themselves as the minnows in an FA Cup Final some of the giant-killing feats of the past might rub off on them. There are, however, two flaws in this approach.

One, this isn't the FA Cup, in which there is 140 years of tradition and glory to inspire you. Two, it underestimates the more professional attitude and mood that seems to have pervaded the club since the arrival of Mr Allardyce at the helm. You've only got to look at the way Cardiff were dealt with both on and off the pitch to see that.

The match won't be a walkover - but nobody around here has ever said it would be, despite the protestations of a few muppets whose proximity to the North Sea makes you wonder what they're chucking out of the exhaust pipes up the coast at Sellafield. I believe that, on the evidence of the past month or so Mr Allardyce has finally moulded the squad into a team - and one that is actually playing some rather good football to boot. Add to this the aforementioned professionalism and you have a combination to be feared by rival teams at this level at least.

Only a few weeks back conventional wisdom was pointing out that the team finishing third was inevitably on a low going into these play-off matches having missed out on automatic promotion. Such was the effective transition from league to play-off matches that's all gone out of the window.

Team news is good - all just about fit as I write, with the exception of young Collison whose shoulder may mean that he starts from the bench. Other than that it appears that we have found the starting XI and formation that is our first choice.

No disrespect to our opponents, but player for player you'd have to fancy us as long as the manager has their minds set up right. I therefore have to go for a win for us in this one as I believe the manager is good at that sort of thing. I have therefore stolen the jar from matron's office that contains the "residents' emergency denture replacement fund"(?2.50) and will be placing it on a 3-1 win to us.

Enjoy the game - and have a good summer!

When last we met: Won 4-1. A frankly quite bonkers match in which Rob Green was incorrectly sent off with 35 minutes to go and us leading 2-1 with goals from Tomkins and Maynard.. Lansbury went in between the sticks and had a quiet time of things as O'Neil and Vaz Te wrapped up the victory.

Referee: Howard Webb. Two seasons before the 2010 World Cup he was probably streets ahead of the pack. In the season immediately before South Africa he was erratic at best, culminating in the World Cup Final itself, a match he controlled with all the air of a six-year-old charged with taking ten alsatians for a simultaneous constitutional through a park full of cats. Rumours that he's been transfer-listed by Manchester United following their failure to win anything this season are probably wide of the mark though.

Danger Man: Scott Dobbie. On loan from Swansea he has picked up a few goals, though the one with which he opened the scoring at St Andrew's owed a wee bit to the 'keeper.

Daft fact of the week: Blackpool are so confident of winning that they have paid, in advance, the ?200,000 per head cost for each player to go on the inaugural Virgin Galactic civilian space flight as a celebratory bonus. Not only that they've built a Promotion Victory Tower slap bang in the middle of the town centre. We have photographic proof - look:

John NorthcuttStat man John: Northcutt's (play-off Final) corner

Head to Head
Pld 53; West Ham Utd 23, Blackpool 17, Draws 13.

Biggest Win(s)
15th October 2011: West Ham Utd 4-0 Blackpool (Boleyn Ground, Championship)
27th December 1966: West Ham Utd 4-0 Blackpool (Boleyn Ground, Division One)
4th January 1958: West Ham Utd 5-1 Blackpool (Boleyn Ground, FA Cup)

Heaviest Defeat
2nd April 1932: Blackpool 7-2 West Ham Utd (Bloomfield Road, Division One)

First Meeting
12th January 1907: West Ham Utd 2-1 Blackpool (Boleyn Ground, FA Cup)

Last Five Meetings
21st February 2012: Blackpool 1-4 West Ham Utd (Bloomfield Road, Championship)
15th October 2011: West Ham Utd 4-0 Blackpool (Boleyn Ground, Championship)
2nd February 2011: Blackpool 1-3 West Ham Utd (Bloomfield Road, Premier League)
13th November 2010: West Ham Utd 0-0 Blackpool (Boleyn Ground, Premier League)
27th February 1971: Blackpool 1-1 West Ham Utd (Bloomfield Road, Division One)

Memorable Match(es)
26th December 1966: Blackpool 1-4 West Ham Utd (Bloomfield Road, Division One)
27th December 1966: West Ham Utd 4-0 Blackpool (Boleyn Ground, Division One)

It's Christmas 1966 and nine days after West Ham had drawn an incredible match 5-5 with Chelsea, United and Blackpool meet twice in the space of just 24 hours - as was the way back then. A soon-to-be-relegated Blackpool were put to the sword both home and away, shipping eight goals whilst scoring just one in reply - just as they did in the 2011/12 season. Geoff Hurst, Brian Dear, Budgie Byrne and Johnny Sissons did for the Seasiders at Bloomfield Road on Boxing Day (Ray Charnley replying from the penalty spot) before Byrne and Hurst were joined by Bobby Moore and Martin Peters on the scoresheet at the Boleyn 24 hours later to secure a 4-0 win. It was the perfect way to end 1966 - a year in which a West Ham captain also held a trophy aloft at Wembley...

They Played For Both
Kyel Reid, Marlon Harewood, Trevor Sinclair, George Dick, Bob Wyllie, Adam Nowland, Percy Thorpe, Ted MacDougall, Les Sealey, Mike Newell, Tom McAlister, Don Travis.

Bossing It
Sam Allardyce was the Blackpool manager between 1994 and 1996.

Blackpool at Wembley
2010: Blackpool 3-2 Cardiff City (Championship play-off Final, Wembley)
2007: Blackpool 2-0 Yeovil Town (League One play-off Final, Wembley)
2001: Blackpool 4-2 Leyton Orient (League Two play-off Final, Wembley)
1992 Blackpool 1-1 (aet 4-3 pens) Scunthorpe United (League Two play-off Final, Wembley)
1991: Blackpool 2-2 (aet 4-5 pens) Torquay (League Two play-off Final, Wembley)
1953: Blackpool 4-3 Bolton Wanderers (FA Cup Final)
1951: Blackpool 0-2 Newcastle Utd (FA Cup Final)
1948: Blackpool 2-4 Manchester Utd (FA Cup Final)

Record: Played 8; Won 5; Drawn 0; Lost 3

West Ham Utd at Wembley
1981: West Ham Utd 1-1 Liverpool (League Cup Final)
1980: West Ham Utd 0-1 Liverpool (Charity Shield)
1980: West Ham Utd 1-0 Arsenal (FA Cup Final)
1975: West Ham Utd 0-2 Derby County (Charity Shield)
1975: West Ham Utd 2-0 Fulham (FA Cup Final)
1966: West Ham Utd 4-2 Germany (World Cup Final)
1965: West Ham Utd 2-0 1860 Munich (European Cup Winners' Cup Final)
1964: West Ham Utd 3-2 Preston North End (FA Cup Final)
1940: West Ham Utd 1-0 Blackburn Rovers (FA War Cup Final)
1923: West Ham Utd 0-2 Bolton Wanderers (FA Cup Final)

Record: Played 9; Won 5; Drawn 1; Lost 3 (1966 not included)

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