SEASIDERS SET UP WEMBLEY SHOWDOWN

Blackpool sealed a showdown with West Ham United in the npower Championship play-off final after an absorbing 2-2 semi-final second leg draw with Birmingham City at St Andrew's, winning 3-2 on aggregate.

Leading 1-0 from Friday night's first leg, the Seasiders took firm control of the tie with two goals minutes either side of half-time from Stephen Dobbie and Matt Phillips.

Nikola Zigic gave Blues a glimmer of hope before skipper Curtis Davies headed the equaliser on the night - but the hosts could not find a crucial winner which would have levelled the tie on aggregate and taken the contest into extra-time, so their 62nd match of a long season proved the last.

Blackpool will now meet the Hammers at Wembley on May 19, with the most lucrative match in world football guaranteeing the winners an immediate return to the Barclays Premier League.

The initial stages set the tone for a blistering encounter, with Blues having two sights of goal well blocked before Tom Ince forced Colin Doyle to save low at the other end. Ince, man of the match at Bloomfield Road five days ago, soon found himself clean through again on the right but, with David Murphy pulling at his shoulder, the tricky winger was denied by Doyle.

Chris Burke whistled an effort narrowly wide before Marlon King, who twice hit the woodwork in the first leg, made it an unwanted hat-trick when he side-footed Murphy's excellent delivery into the ground and on to the top of the crossbar.

The game continued at a frenetic pace on a slick surface, Zigic testing Matt Gilks. But just when it appeared as though it would remain goalless going into half-time, Blackpool doubled their aggregate advantage.

Ince's corner was only half headed out by Davies, who managed to block Alex Baptiste's subsequent overhead but the ball broke for Dobbie and his low shot agonisingly squirmed under Doyle at his near post. Within three second-half minutes, the tie appeared all but over.

Phillips timed his burst to perfection to run off the shoulder of Murphy and bring down Stephen Crainey's long ball, with a trickling neat finish beating Doyle and crossing the line off the far post. But Zigic gave Birmingham hope in the 64th minute with a well-taken finish having been put through by Burke.

King wasted a great chance to level things on the night having directed substitute Nathan Redmond's cross straight at Gilks. But Davies succeeded where King failed soon after, heading home Jordon Mutch's corner. The centre-back wasted a similar chance in the 78th minute as City failed to find a leveller.

HAMMERS HEADING TO WEMBLEY

West Ham United are 90 minutes away from a return to the Barclays Premier League after sweeping aside Cardiff City with a 3-0 win (5-0 on aggregate) in the second leg of their Play-Off semi-final.

The Hammers quickly shrugged off the disappointment of missing out on automatic promotion as goals from Kevin Nolan, Ricardo Vaz Te and Nicky Maynard booked them a trip to Wembley for the first time in 31 years.

One year on from relegation, they will now face either Blackpool or Birmingham City on May 19 for a shot at returning to the top flight and the estimated £90million reward promotion brings. As for Cardiff, they began the season with victory at Upton Park but ended it suffering play-off heartache for the third successive year.

Malky Mackay's side arrived in east London as huge underdogs, trailing 2-0 from the first leg in Wales last week. Both teams knew the importance of an early goal, Cardiff to haul themselves back into the tie and West Ham to kill it off.

And the visitors did pose a brief threat, having a half-hearted penalty appeal turned down when Kenny Miller tumbled under Winston Reid's challenge.

But it was West Ham who struck the crucial first blow from Matt Taylor's 15th minute corner. Carlton Cole's close-range header was blocked by Cardiff skipper Mark Hudson but Nolan was on hand to nod the rebound over the line for his 13th goal of the season.

It was one-way traffic from then on with a disappointing Cardiff side already resigned to their fate. West Ham were inches from going two up when Jack Collison, the two-goal hero from the first leg, crossed to Gary O'Neil, whose first-time volley came back off the bar. O'Neil then forced a fine diving save from David Marshall with a swerving effort from outside the area.

And five minutes before the interval the hosts did double their lead in style. Cardiff defender Stephen McPhail missed Guy Demel's pass but Vaz Te did not, taking the ball in his stride before blasting an unstoppable angled drive past Marshall and into the net.

After the break Taylor and Reid had shots blocked while a rare Cardiff foray forward saw Liam Lawrence drive wide.

But it was Hammers substitute Maynard who had the final say with a superb finish from Henri Lansbury's through-ball a minute from time. The jubilant home fans burst into a rendition of 'we're going to Wembley' - and they actually meant it for the first time since Trevor Brooking, Billy Bonds and Co lost the League Cup final to Liverpool way back in 1981.

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First legs

WOODWORK DENIES BLUES AS SEASIDERS SNEAK IT

Curtis Davies' unfortunate own goal gave Blackpool a slender 1-0 advantage over Birmingham City in the first leg of their npower Championship Play-Off semi-final.

The hosts broke the deadlock 44 minutes into an evenly-matched first half when Tom Ince's speculative low drive took a significant deflection off Blues captain Davies.

Nathan Redmond and Marlon King might have put Birmingham ahead before that, but Chris Hughton's side were forced onto the back foot in the second half, with former Liverpool youngster Ince to the fore.

Stephen Dobbie should have doubled the advantage following a sublime piece of skill from the 20-year-old winger before the Bloomfield Road faithful had hearts in mouths when King clipped the outside of the post in stoppage time.

Birmingham head into Wednesday's second leg at St Andrew's - their 62nd game of a season punctuated by runs in the Europa League and FA Cup - needing to bounce back from a first defeat in 10 outings, while Blackpool are now unbeaten in eight.

Gary Taylor-Fletcher prodded home from an offside position for the hosts, while Davies headed off target at the other end in a frenetic opening.

King might have done better when his shot from Chris Burke's cutback clipped the top of the bar at the end of a clinical 40th minute counter attack.

It was a miss he lived to regret a minute before the interval when Ince's 25-yard effort deflected off Davies and squirmed home past a wrong-footed Doyle.

Holloway introduced Nouha Dicko and and Kevin Phillips in a straight swap for forwards Dobbie and Taylor-Fletcher and the latter thought he had made an instant impact against his former club, only to be flagged offside after heading home a right-wing cross from namesake Matt.

King was agonisingly close to levelling the tie in the first minute of stoppage time, stretching to steer Wade Elliott's knockdown against the woodwork.

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COLLINSON BRACE GIVES HAMMERS ADVANTAGE

Jack Collison's double strike helped West Ham take a huge stride closer to the Barclays Premier League with a 2-0 victory over Cardiff City.

The Welshman, a product of the London club's youth system, registered twice in the first half of his side's npower Championship Play-Off semi-final first leg encounter at the Cardiff City Stadium, nodding home from close range after nine minutes and then seeing his deflected volley find the back of the net five minutes before the break.

It gives the Hammers a huge advantage going into the second leg on Monday. The hosts struggled for any kind of rhythm for much of the match and West Ham could have taken an even more comfortable lead back to Upton Park, but for David Marshall's superb save from Carlton Cole's header.

The Hammers may still have two more games to negotiate before they can celebrate a return to the top flight but, on this showing, the class and determination is there to achieve exactly that. Cardiff almost went ahead after two minutes, Peter Whittingham's deflected effort dipping narrowly over the crossbar.

But with their first attempt at goal, the Hammers gained the upper hand. Ricardo Vaz Te crossed from the left and, although Collison's first attempt was brilliantly stopped by Marshall, the Welshman was on hand to nod in the rebound.

Quickly, West Ham got a stranglehold on the game. Gary O'Neil tested Marshall from range and James Tomkins headed Matt Taylor's fizzing cross wide. Cardiff, in part, were the architects of their own struggles, frequently gifting possession to their guests.

The Welsh side tried to rally, with Miller firing wide, but Collison soon stunted their comeback with his second. Taylor's corner was half-cleared to the midfielder, who controlled the ball on his chest, pulled the trigger and saw a wicked deflection off the head of Liam Lawrence wrongfoot Marshall.

Cole must have thought he had put the tie out of sight before half-time, but Marshall pulled off a sensational low save from the striker's header.

Cardiff showed intent to get back into the game after the interval, with Whittingham volleying wide and Ben Turner seeing his header cleared off the line by Cole, before Miller fired horribly off-target.

For all their late huff and puff, however, the Bluebirds could not fashion a goal, leaving themselves with a lot to do in London in four days' time.

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