West Ham United
Vaz Te 87
Ref: Mr H Webb
By Tony Leighton
West Ham United's army of fans were blowing bubbles of delight on Saturday evening after a late goal by Portuguese striker Ricardo Vaz Te had won the npower Championship Play-Off Final to clinch a rapid return to the Premier League.
Relegated along with Blackpool at the end of last season, the Hammers were favourites to bounce back through a top-two finish but had to take the Play-Offs route.
Disappointment at missing out on automatic promotion was forgotten at Wembley, however, as Vaz Te struck his 12th goal for the Upton Park club since his January move from Barnsley - where had hit 12 goals in the first half of the season.
Striker Carlton Cole had given West Ham as 35th-minute lead that was cancelled out by Thomas Ince three minutes after the interval. Both sides then had chances to win the match, but Vaz Te hit the Hammers-blow three minutes from time.
Blackpool paid the price for squandering some of the game's best chances after they had made a bright start and went mighty close to taking the lead after only three minutes, on-loan Swansea City striker Stephen Dobbie shooting from a tight angle but goalkeeper Robert Green turning the ball on to the near post.
Dobbie then set up Matt Phillips with a good 14th-minute chance, but the winger directed his 18-yard shot straight at Green.
A worse miss by the same player arrived just 60 seconds later, Phillips this time doing well to take advantage of a mistake by right-back Guy Demel but then shooting wastefully wide from 12 yards out.
West Ham made the most of those early let-offs as they played their way into the game and, after Vaz Te had sent a 20th-minute effort into the side-netting, going in front 10 minutes before half-time.
Left-back Matt Taylor swapped passes with Vaz Te before curling in a cross that Cole latched on to and then fired a 10 yard shot into the far corner of the net.
It was Cole's 15th goal of the season, but the striker went from hero to zero as he started the move for Blackpool's equaliser with a mis-directed back-pass three minutes into the second half.
The pass rolled to the feet of Matt Phillips, who lofted a long through-ball which Ince chased to slide a low shot across Green and just inside the far post.
A second Seasiders goal almost arrived two minutes later, central defender Alex Baptise lifting the ball over Green but Taylor hooking it over the bar for a corner.
But the Hammers hit back forcefully and in the 63rd minute Cole came close to making up for his earlier error. Collecting a pass from substitute Julien Faubert, the striker sent in a 15 yard shot that was brilliantly saved by the diving Gilks.
The game was becoming more open as it moved towards the closing stages and Blackpool wasted yet another fine chance in the 67th minute, Ince crossing for Dobbie only for the striker to scuff his 12 yard shot well wide.
Dobbie, a Play-Off Final winner with Blackpool in 2010 and with Swansea last year, went close to what could have given him a hat-trick of Wembley triumphs with a 75th-minute 20-yard drive that Green turned round the post at full stretch.
West Ham captain Kevin Nolan went even closer five minutes later, meeting substitute George McCartney's cross with a stunning volley that crashed against the crossbar.
But Nolan then had the satisfaction of providing the cross from which Vaz Te struck a close range shot into the roof of the net to set the hoards of Hammers fans behind that goal going wild with delight.
The team managed by Sam Allardyce had gone into the match as favourites after beating Blackpool 4-0 and 4-1 during the season and finishing 11 points higher than the Seasiders in the table.
Favourites don't always come out on top, but - as Blackpool boss Ian Holloway said ahead of the Final - "Sam knows what wins."
Blackpool (4-2-3-1): Gilks; Eardley, Evatt, Crainey; Martinez (Dicko 90), Ferguson; Ince, Dobbie (Bednar 90), M. Phillips; K. Phillips (Sylvestre 71).
Substitutes not used: Southern, Cathcart.
West Ham United (4-2-3-1): Green; Demel (Faubert 57); Tomkins, Reid, Taylor; O'Neill (McCartney 53), Noble; Collison, Nolan, Vaz Te; Cole.
Substitutes not used: Maynard, Henderson, Lansbury.