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Championship Play-off Final Tips – Hammers set for top-flight return

Allardyce to take Hammers back to Premier League (credit: Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)
Blackpool and West Ham United will arrive at Wembley Stadium on Saturday knowing the winner will seal an immediate return to the Premier League.

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The prize for the winners of the Championship Play-off Final is not just a spot in the Premier League but also an estimated cash windfall of around £60million.

Both these clubs know all about the riches on offer in England’s top flight having suffered the agony of relegation last season. Both will be equally desperate to make an instant return with victory at Wembley.

Ian Holloway’s men will be able to draw on the memory of their recent play-off victory over Cardiff in 2010. West Ham, meanwhile, have mixed memories of the play-offs, having lost to Crystal Palace in 2004 but then beating Preston a year later.

For West Ham, a spot in the play-offs was a consolation prize after missing out on automatic promotion.

Sam Allardyce’s men were widely tipped to go up automatically at the start of the season, but despite consistently flirting with the top two a failure to convert draws into wins saw them fall behind Reading and Southampton.

Blackpool boss Holloway admitted he found relegation on the final day of last season hard to take, but despite losing the likes of Charlie Adam and David Vaughan, the astute purchases of Barry Ferguson and Kevin Phillips allowed them to rebuild and mount a sustained play-off challenge.

The Hammers begin the game as 20/21 favourites to win in 90 minutes, with Blackpool priced at 11/4. Given play-off finals are often tight and tense affairs, do not rule out the prospect of extra time, with the draw after 90 minutes priced at 13/5.

West Ham’s favouritism appears justified, given they are unbeaten in their last eight matches, winning six of those. In the play-off semi-final they breezed past Cardiff 5-0 on aggregate.

But Blackpool are hardly out-of-form, without defeat in nine games, though four of those are draws. However, in their two league encounters with Blackpool the Londoners have triumphed handsomely, winning 4-0 at Upton Park in October and 4-1 at Bloomfield Road in February.

If the play-offs are all about peaking at the right moment, West Ham have timed things perfectly. With 160 goals scored between the two sides in the regular season, penalty-box action should also be guaranteed at Wembley.

Blackpool in particular are known for their swashbuckling brand of attacking football, but West Ham have plenty of firepower themselves and will look to exploit any gaps at the back.

Backing over 2.5 goals at 5/6 should produce a return while brave punters could get hefty odds of 11/1 for six goals or more.

Carlton Cole is West Ham’s top scorer this season with 14 goals and his odds of 11/2 to score first here shouldn’t be ignored, nor should Kevin Nolan’s odds of 7/1 given the former Bolton man has hit 13 already from midfield this campaign.

For Blackpool it’s all about Kevin Phillips. The 38-year-old just keeps on going and his odds of 8/1 to score first, adding to his 17 goals already this season, should also be considered.

It has been 41 years, though, since Blackpool last beat West Ham and all the signs here suggest that wait will go on. A goal-filled 3-2 victory for the Hammers will leave their supporters blowing bubbles down Wembley Way and should send punters home happy too given that scorecast is priced at a tasty 25/1.

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Championship Play-off Final Tips – Hammers set for top-flight return

Blackpool and West Ham United will arrive at Wembley Stadium on Saturday knowing the winner will seal an immediate return to the Premier League.

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