THE BIG MATCH
All eyes will be on Wembley Stadium this Saturday as Blackpool and West Ham United go head-to-head in the biggest showpiece event of the Football League calendar, the Championship Play-Off Final.
Both sides are aiming to return to the Barclays Premier League just a year after being relegated, but there's only one place on offer - which is the one of the most lucrative prizes in world football.
West Ham United were in and around to top end of the division all season but were pipped to an immediate automatic return to the top flight by Southampton, who finished two points ahead of the Iron in second, and eventual-league champions Reading.
The Hammers had to settle for a third-placed finish but coasted past Cardiff City in the Play-Off semi-final, beating them 2-0 in the first leg and 3-0 in the second leg, to earn a spot under the arch at Wembley.
They come into the game as hot favourites after finishing 11 points better off than Blackpool and manager Sam Allardyce is confidence that, despite the magnitude of the game and the pressure surrounding it, his side will put on a performance when they step over the white line at Wembley.
"I think we all know how big the game is as the pressure builds-up day by day. We're low key in our training and nobody wants to get any injuries, It should bring the best out of us and not have one of those where we freeze on the big stage," Allardyce told www.whufc.com.
"I think there will be a certain amount of anxiety but in a game like this you need to control their emotions and give the best performance they can give. From my point of view I need to control my emotions to make the best decisions in the game," he added.
West Ham were comprehensive winners on both occasions when the sides met during the regular season, winning 4-1 away and 4-0 at home, and the former Bolton Wanderers boss believes that will only increase his team's confidence ahead of the final. They certainly wont underestimate the Seasiders, though.
"They'd [Blackpool] only lost three at home all season and one of our best performances was the 4-1 win there.
"The Play-Off Final will be different and it is a one-off game and it will be a great game to be involved in, especially for the players. It won't be easy so we must treat them with the upmost respect and try to expose their weaknesses as early as we can."
After finishing fifth in the league table, Blackpool overcame Birmingham City, winning 1-0 at Bloomfield Road and drawing 2-2 at St Andrews, to earn their place in the showpiece final.
Ian Holloway is well-known for setting his side up to play entertaining football and he believes that has been the key to his side surpassing all expectations to be within a whisker of an immediate return to the Premier League.
He told www.blackpoolfc.co.uk: "I'm very, very proud of the way we're trying to pass the ball around and entertain, as well as win. As long as our focus is always on that, if we win it's brilliant.
"I just want everybody to go there and just enjoy the day. If my team can enjoy the day and play the way we can then I think we'll cause them problems."
The Tangerines have the know-how of the end-of-season festivities, too, experiencing the triumph of a Championship Play-Off Final two years - beating Cardiff City 3-2 - and Holloway says that leading his side out at the national stadium again is an honour.
"To have an opportunity to go back to a place that is just quite unbelievable and that we had a wonderful experience at two years ago, after the disappointment of, I believe, having such a wonderful first season in the Premier League and getting 39 points - which would have kept us up this season - is just a privilege.
"For this team to have a second chance of doing it, particularly after we lost a huge part of that team, to do it again at the first attempt would be quite phenomenal."
With 70,000 tickets sold between the two clubs already, and the prize of a place in the top flight of English football on offer, the Championship Play-Off final promises to be an enthralling match with a red-hot atmosphere.
For one club, a fairytale tale return to the Premier League is about to be complete. For the other, it's another season in the npower Championship.
HEAD TO HEAD
The most recent meeting between the two sides was at Bloomfield Road on 21st February and West Ham United were comfortable 4-1 winners that day, despite midfielder Henri Lansbury having to play in goal for 35 minutes of the match after goalkeeper Rob Green was dismissed for a foul on Roman Bednar.
Goals from James Tomkins, Nicky Maynard, Gary O'Neil and Ricardo Vaz Te secured all three points for the Hammers, while Kevin Phillips scored the only goal of the game for the Seasiders.
West Ham also found the net four times in the corresponding fixture this season at Upton Park, running out 4-0 winners. It was a different set of goal scorers this time, though, with Jon Carew and Jack Collison both scoring once and striker Sam Baldock netting a brace.
The last time Blackpool actually managed to beat the Hammers was 41 years ago, in January 1971, when they won 4-0 in the FA Cup third round. The Tangerines last league victory against the London club dates back even further - Saturday 19th March 1966 to be precise - when they secured a 2-1 victory in a Division 1 tie.
Despite their recent struggles against West Ham, the Seasiders have a respectable record against their Play-Off final opponents, with 17 victories. The Hammers have the upper hand, though, with 23 wins. 13 games between the two have ended level.
Saturday will be the first time ever that Blackpool and West Ham have met in the Play-Offs.
Blackpool come into the Play-Off Final unbeaten in nine matches and boss Ian Holloway has no major injury concerns ahead of the match. West Ham, meanwhile, are unbeaten in eight and manager Sam Allardyce has stated that he has a near-full squad to choose from.
"I think everyone who has been playing recently is fit and available," the 57-year-old told www.whufc.com.
"The squad is quite strong and I'll let the lads know the team on Friday and the subs on Saturday morning."
The biggest relief for Allardyce will be the news that midfielder Jack Collison has recovered from the dislocated shoulder he picked up in the Play-Off semi-final second-leg victory against Cardiff City. The only other concern is that of right-back Joey O'Brien, who is battling to be fit for the 3pm kick-off as he tries to overcome a leg problem.
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