Npower Championship Play-Off Semi-Final 1st leg 
Cardiff City 0-2 West Ham United



Jack Collison celebrates after scoring his side's second goal to leave West Ham in a strong position for reaching the play-off final


By Adam Higgins
Chief Football Editor from the Cardiff City Stadium 

West Ham will take a two-goal cushion into the second leg of their Championship play-off semi final after a dominant victory over an off-colour Cardiff.

Despite a confident start from the home side, Malky Mackay's men soon filtered out of the game and were behind after nine minutes when Jack Collison headed past David Marshall after his initial effort had been saved by the goalkeeper. The midfielder doubled the lead for the Hammers shortly before half-time with a deflected volley. The 2-0 victory puts one foot into the play-off final for West Ham who were always in command with the second leg of the tie upcoming on Bank Holiday Monday at Upton Park.

Cardiff City made one change from the side that cemented the final play-off place at the weekend with a 2-1 away victory at Crystal Palace with the versatile Darcy Blake starting his first match since January in place of the injured Kevin McNaughton at right-back.

Sam Allardyce, who won promotion via the play-offs with Bolton Wanderers in 2001 as a manager, also made one alteration to the side who beat Hull City 2-1 at Upton Park last Saturday on the final day of the Championship season but were pipped to second place by Southampton who thumped Coventry. Jack Collison came into the midfield to replace on-loan Arsenal youngster Henri Lansbury who was left out of the matchday squad altogether. Gary O'Neil, Kevin Nolan and James Tomkins all shook off minor knocks and niggles to keep their place in the team.

Cardiff made a lively start to proceedings with a good four-minute spell in the third vs sixth play-off semi-final opening with both sides wary of the fact that they are both potentially three wins away from a ticket to the Premier League. Peter Whittingham fancied a crack early on which deflected wickedly and flicked the top of the crossbar in the first minute which came about after one of the weapons in the Bluebird armourery- the Arron Gunnarsson long throw- wasn't sufficiently dealt with by the Hammers defence. Kenny Miller tested Robert Green who parried away in the visitors goal shortly after with a fizzing effort from the edge of the box following a long direct ball forward from Mark Hudson.


This was the 50th meeting between Cardiff City and West Ham- but it was the first time they had ever met in the play-offs with the Hammers now winning twenty-six games compared to the Bluebird's meagre nine victories over the Upton Park side.

The play-offs are known for wiping the slates clean and upsetting the form book- Cardiff coming into the game were unbeaten in ten games. The Hammers, who picked up a club record thirteen away wins in the regular Championship season, though against the early run of play found themselves infront on nine minutes when the home side gifted them possession with Ricardo Vaz Te timing his run to perfection to get to the dead-ball line and cross for Collison marching in at the back post who was initially denied by a superb David Marshall stop but the goalkeeper was powerless in preventing the midfielder from nodding in the rebound from close in to open the scoring in South Wales.

The pressure was immediately back on West Ham with a couple of setpieces which the home team were looking as a way of getting at the Hammers- who had won four of their last six league matches. But the home side's early storm was weathered as the away team soon took total control. There was a collision between Liam Lawrence and Vaz Te inside the penalty area which could have resulted in a Hammers penalty but referee Neil Swarbrick, close to the action, took a blind eye to. Tomkins, who has enjoyed an excellent campaign in central defence and occasionally in central midfield, couldn't stretch as he headed over for West Ham from a lovely left-footed cross from Matt Taylor.

The wind was certainly taken out of the Cardiff sails as Malky Mackay and the home fans urged their team on from the dugout and stands respectively. The home side knew they had problems when the most reliable figure of the side Whittingham was given the ball away cheaply on numerous occasions. The home team were soaking up the pressure thrown at them during the visitors' best spell of the first half. At the other end, Scotsman Miller, with eleven goals this season, came very close with a bending effort from the twenty-five yards which had the relative spectator Green scrambling across although it didn't curl enough travelling just wide of the post. It got the crowd on their feet and showed that Cardiff hadn't lost their mojo.

But despite that West Ham took a stranglehold on the game by doubling their advantage on the scoresheet through the same player who scored the first. A corner was cleared by the head of Ben Turner and out to Collison who controlled with the chest trap before smacking a volley at goal via a massive deflection off Cowie before deceiving the dive of Marshall and finding the opposite corner of the net. The Welshman's second of the match and sixth of the season well and truly broke the hearts of the Welsh club coming shortly before half-time.

There was still time for Carlton Cole, who had scored five goals in his previous five games, to use his physical presence to wrestle off Mark Hudson to head Gary O'Neil's first time ball in at goal although his fine header was creeping in and bettened by a superb right-handed save from Marshall to push it around the post.


West Ham have now lost only once in their last nineteen matches while Cardiff were beaten for the first time in eleven games in all competitions.

Cole had been struggling with a groin injury for the final moments of the first period but came back out for the second half regardless of the fact he was clearly not 100% fit. Cardiff approached the start more positively and in similar fashion to the way they began the first 45 minutes by throwing everything at West Ham. The away side were able to deal with their threat although these were encouraging sides for the Bluebirds- who finished eleven points behind the Hammers in the league. A big moment when begging for the home side when Lawrence released Miller with a terrificly weighted pass although the former Rangers strike was let down by his poor close-control which allowed Tomkins to hold him up and take him away from goal.

The West Ham centre-forward Cole, while causing problems at one end, was tasked to defend the goalline at the other as a setpiece delivery almost wreaked havoc occasioning a couple of scares with Green attempting to punch but missed. Cole was cool and personified when heading clear from underneath his own crossbar as the ball span off the boot of Don Cowie who didn't know a lot about it. Miller was again misfiring when shanking the ball wide just after the hour mark following a cleared corner kick although Mark Noble rushing out may well have knocked the forward off his stride. The improvement was evident from the home side with Malky Mackay, a winner of the play-offs as a player with Watford in 2006, choosing the right words to say to his players in the dressing room during the interval.

A few yellow cards were being brandished to the visitors as West Ham showed plenty of productiveness to protect their two goal lead with a more defensive approach clearly on Allardyce's mind with the introduction of left-back George McCartney, whose rare goal made the points safe on their last visit to Wales- a 2-0 win over the Bluebirds at the beginning of March, on in place of forward Vaz Te. The Hammers maintained their measure of control on the game with their ability to hold onto the ball for long periods. On the other hand, Cardiff were lacking in a piece of quality in particular the final pass to unlock the defence and ask questions of Tomkins and Reid who had a solid match. The energyless performance curtailing the home side's troubles with fans trying to do their bit.

Cardiff did have the ball in the net but Joe Mason- voted player of the year this week on his 100th career appearance- was flagged for a marginal offside call by assistant referee Ron Ganfield. While West Ham could have practically killed the tie off altogether had captain Kevin Nolan- who found the net in the Hammers' win here in the Championship- managed to find the target from another wonderfully paced delivery from the left by Taylor although with all the power generated it was inaccurate and failed to even work the goalkeeper- something which Cardiff had done all night since the third minute of the game. Earnshaw volleyed well wide having had the left side of the penalty area all to himself as Noble's defensive clearance dropped to him. The Wales striker made a clean connection but didn't trouble the goal or indeed Green.

There were further half chances for Cardiff through Gunnarsson and Mason but they both were wasteful as Cardiff have it all to do in the second leg on Monday night at Upton Park- a ground where they won on the opening day of the regular league season thanks to a 90th minute winner. They are going to need miracles but know that it isn't impossible to overturn bearing in mind the home form of the Hammers recently, as both managers stated before the game- this is only "half-time" in the tie.


Adam Higgins
The Football Site- Chief Football Editor

"West Ham looked sharper and quicker to every ball all over the pitch and they fully deserved to take a lead back to Upton Park in the second leg. The tie is not over yet and can be overturned. Cardiff didn't have enough firepower and energy which was unusual despite giving it a go after half-time. It just wasn't their night and they had no luck whatsoever. The Hammers fitted the bill of their favourites tag by keeping possession, having the element of quality and using their fantastic away form and strikeforce to their advantage. It makes the second leg interesting though because it is well documentated that West Ham's failure to secuure automatic promotion was mainly due to poor home form. Big Sam will be quietly confident now but will not be taking anything for granted."


Thursday 3rd May 2012

Npower Championship Play-Off Semi-Final 1st leg

Cardiff City Stadium


Cardiff City 0-2 West Ham United                               KO 7:45pm            (HT 0-2)

                      Collison 9, 41


Cardiff City:  1 Marshall- 8/10, 23 Blake- 5.5/10, 5 Hudson (C)- 6.5/10, 25 Turner- 6.5/10, 3 Taylor- 6/10, 13 Lawrence- 7/10, 7 Whittingham- 6/10, 17 Gunnarsson- 7/10, 8 Cowie- 6/10 (McPhail 74- 2.5/10), 9 Miller- 6/10 (Earnshaw 74- 0/10), 20 Mason- 6.5/10.

Subs not used:  22 Heaton, 6 Gerrard, 4 Kiss

Booked:      None


West Ham:  1 Green- 7/10, 20 Demel- 6.5/10 (Faubert 75- 3/10), 2 Reid- 6.5/10, 5 Tomkins- 7.5/10, 14 Taylor- 8/10, 4 Nolan (C)- 7/10, 10 Collison- 9/10 (Maynard 86- 1.5/10), 16 Noble- 8.5/10, 32 O'Neil- 7.5/10, 9 Cole- 8.5/10, 12 Vaz Te- 6/10 (McCartney 60- 4/10).

Subs not used:  13 Henderson, 15 Faye

Booked:      Tomkins (54), Noble (61), Nolan (64), Faubert (87)


My Man of the Match:     Jack Collison (West Ham United)- Rating 9/10

My Poorest Performer of the Match:     Darcy Blake (Cardiff City)- Rating 5.5/10 



Referee: Neil Swarbrick (Lancashire)- 9/10
Attendance: 23,029



Match Facts

Possession: Cardiff City- 48%               West Ham- 52%

Shots: Cardiff City- 10                    West Ham- 11

Shots on target: Cardiff City- 3                  West Ham- 8

Shots off target: Cardiff City- 7                  West Ham- 3

Corners: Cardiff City- 5                     West Ham- 9

Fouls: Cardiff City- 12                    West Ham- 15

Offside: Cardiff City- 2                        West Ham- 6

Assists: Cardiff City- None                    West Ham- Vaz Te



Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay

"We've got to make sure we go into that second leg [and score] one goal and things change, 2-0 is a dangerous score. We're a team that are certainly going to be making sure that we go there and give everything we can. We have done all season, it didn't change tonight and it's not going to change on Monday. We knew it was going to be a tough game for us and obviously it was, but again we've got to not concede bad goals. The first was a bad goal we conceded, the second was complete luck in terms of it hitting someone and going in the other direction. But certainly second half we really came out on the front foot and had three or four good chances that on another day one or two of them drop in. It looked like the momentum was with us and with the amount of chances we did have in the second half, I felt that if we got one [goal] they would certainly be on the back foot. We knew we had played many more games than them and we knew that they've got a vastly superior squad in terms of experience."

Click here for the full interview with Bluebirds boss Malky Mackay after the match



West Ham United manager Sam Allardyce

"We're not going to get carried away. It was a terrific result but there's a long way to go. We need to be as professional on Monday as we were in Cardiff and that should be enough to take us through. Two goals is a margin that's difficult for them but they'll be thinking about getting the first goal and whether we'll be nervous and edgy and trying to protect what we've got. The last three games we were relying on other people even if we won and it's in our hands again now. Whoever wins, takes the trophy and it's not about us playing catch-up on anyone, we're just trying to deliver a performance and we've got to make sure we finish it off. In the back of the minds there might be a slight hesitancy to try to protect what we've got but that would be dangerous and we've got to have a positive attitude and try to score the first goal. It's my job to start mentally preparing them for the fact that they've got to approach the game as a 0-0 and they've to try to win it."

Click here for the full interview with Hammers boss Sam Allardyce after the match

Watch match highlights of West Ham's 2-0 win over Cardiff here


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