CARDIFF CITY v WEST HAM UNITED

With the npower Championship's regular season now over all eyes turn to the Play-Offs and the battle to claim the third and final promotion place.

It all kicks off on Thursday night when the teams who finished sixth and third respectively, Cardiff City and West Ham United, meet in South Wales for the first leg of their semi-final.

Cardiff are embarking on their third successive crack at the Play-Offs having been beaten by Blackpool in 2010's final and then lost to Reading over two legs in last year's semi.

The Bluebirds undertake their task in solid form having not lost since March 13, a run of 10 games without defeat, plus they have the experiences of the last couple of years and reaching this season's Carling Cup Final.

Skipper Mark Hudson told www.cardiffcityfc.co.uk: "Now we have the experience of having been there before and it's all about concentrating on the next two games. We've played West Ham twice and they've been two tough games. But we're a close knit group, we succeed as a team, and we'll be giving it our all.

"West Ham are a big club with a big wage bill and had big expectations to go up automatically. They have a lot of threats going forward with players like Ricardo Vaz Te, Carlton Cole and Kevin Nolan who pops up with a fair few goals.

"But we've had experience of these kind of situations this season with the Carling Cup semi-finals and final. So we know the pressure and we know what to expect."

West Ham began the season as one of the teams tipped to go up automatically and for a long time it looked as if they would do so, only for a series of draws in March - and the remarkable form of Reading - to pull them back down to third.

But they did only lose one of their last 18 games and their bid for an immediate return to the Premier League continues with the Play-Offs.

Manager Sam Allardyce told www.whufc.com: "Coming into the ground on a day-to-day basis makes you smile as we've got a fantastic group of players. We're disappointed that we haven't achieved our ultimate goal of automatic promotion.

"What I've got to do is show them the way forward and produce that form that will be good enough for the Play-Offs two legs and not concern ourselves with the final or even think about it yet.

"Of the 30 teams that have been relegated in the last 10 years, only eight have gone straight back up. For four of last five seasons, 86 points were enough and that shows you we are a bit unlucky but we've got to master our own destiny and prove that what we've got is good enough."

Allardyce and his opposite number Malky Mackay will both have fully-fit squads to choose from with all knocks and niggles having cleared up in each camp.

Both sides won the away game against each other in 2011/12 with Cardiff triumphing 1-0 at West Ham on the opening day, only for the Hammers to win 2-0 in March's trip to Wales.

Tonight's game is a 7.45pm kick-off with the return leg at West Ham on Monday a 4.30pm start. Both matches are screened live on Sky Sports.

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BLACKPOOL v BIRMINGHAM CITY

Fans of Blackpool and Birmingham City have to wait until Friday night to see the two sides face off in the first leg of their npower Championship Play-Off semi-final.

Both sides were relegated from the Premier League last season so are looking for an immediate return to the top flight and one will get the chance to do so in the Play-Off Final.

That is the route Blackpool took in 2010 when beating Cardiff City in the final - the two teams could meet again in a repeat this time - and they are looking to earn their place at Wembley for a second time in three years.

Ian Holloway's men ended the season strongly with just one defeat from their last 10 fixtures to finish fifth as a last-day draw at Millwall saw the Seasiders and Birmingham swap places, meaning the first leg will be played at Bloomfield Road.

Manager Holloway told Tangerine Player: "I am totally excited. It is an absolute honour and a joy to be involved in what I think could be one of the best Championship Play-Off fights of all time.

"We have done brilliantly to get there and let's see what happens next. Someone has to win it and why can't it be us? I know we have to be at our maximum to do it but the boys are looking in fantastic shape.

"I don't know if there has ever been a better Play-Off. Let's hope it lives up to its billing and there are a lot of goals. That's what we'll be trying to do again - outscore the opposition and win."

Birmingham's marathon season has already seen them play 60 matches because of their success in the Europa League, allied to fixtures in the League Cup and FA Cup.

They just have the edge in terms of form with one defeat in their last 11 games, against Blackpool's one in 10, and ended the regular season by beating champions Reading 2-0 and slipping above Blackpool in the table.

They will also have the perceived home advantage in the second leg, which takes place at St Andrew's on Tuesday evening.

Manager Chris Hughton told www.bcfc.com: "I think we've got good momentum going into the Play-Offs but I don't think it [playing at home second] is the most important thing.

"Any manager going into a Play-Off situation, if he had a choice, would choose to play at home second. But any advantage is minimal.

"The games are such one-off games that you are relying on so many things, whether it's that little bit of luck or fortune, or who is going to take that one classic chance? It's about what happens on the day."

Blackpool's only absentee is defender Craig Cathcart, who has a heart problem, while Roman Bednar played for the reserves in midweek after a knee injury but might not make the 16.

Birmingham have Nikola Zigic fit after he missed the win over Reading, while Jonathan Spector should be fit and Keith Fahey is making progress, as is Stephen Carr, while young Nathan Redmond is pushing for a start.

The season's fixtures between the two sides saw a 2-2 draw at Bloomfield Road in November, while Birmingham won 3-0 in front of their own fans on New Year's Eve.

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