A place in the Premier League is at stake when Blackpool and West Ham United clash at Wembley Stadium on Saturday.
Boylesports Match Odds: West Ham EVS, Draw 13/5, Blackpool 11/4
Widely acknowledged as the most lucrative game in world football, it could be argued that the Championship play-off final is therefore the biggest game taking place this weekend – which sounds like a ludicrous statement when the Champions League final is set to kick-off in Munich only a few hours later, but money talks in football and he who pays the piper calls the tune.
It has been estimated by financial consultancy firm Deloitte that victory in the play-off final is worth up to £90 million, about £40 million of this is due to the huge increase in income generated from broadcast rights as received by all Premier League teams – Wolves were the lowest earners in this regard in 2011-2012 with just above £39 million given to the bottom-placed club. Significant jumps in gate receipts and commercial income following promotion from the Championship are all but assured too and there are also huge sums given in ‘parachute payments’ to every club upon their exit from the Premier League, so even if the winners between West Ham and Blackpool on Saturday are subsequently relegated at the first attempt in 2012-2013 these injections can ultimately account for another £50million in the kitty, albeit over a far greater period of time.
Beyond the frankly astonishing money involved though the games themselves have a well-earned (if the pun is pardoned) reputation for serving up some absolutely riveting encounters since the final was cut to a one legged affair back in 1990 with Sunderland’s 4-4 draw with Charlton Athletic in 1998 and the gripping 7-6 penalty shootout triumph for the Addicks which followed a notable highlight in a history littered with them. Caution is often thrown to the wind in the pursuit of the obvious stature and glamour afforded by a spot in the Premier League and there is little to suggest the showdown at Wembley on Saturday afternoon that will see one team return to England’s elite at the first time of asking can’t offer more of the same excitement.
On paper this one would appear to be done and dusted before the teams have stepped on to the turf as the Hammers have put eight past their opponents over the course of their previous meetings this season with a 4-0 win at Upton Park in October complimented perfectly by their 4-1 spanking of their hosts by the seaside in February on their way to a third-place finish in the Championship just three points adrift of champions Reading and two behind Southampton. West Ham also trounced Cardiff 5-0 over their two legs in the play-off semi-final and have won seven of their last ten matches and so Sam Allardyce’s troops will arrive at Wembley in red-hot form and priced at an almost too-good-to-be-true evens to win the match in 90 minutes.
Allardyce hasn’t enjoyed the best relationship with Hammers fans in his first season in the hot-seat, he accused the home faithful of being ‘deluded’ and continued that Irons’ fans were ‘getting carried away’ after they sang negatively regarding the direct tactics the former Bolton and Blackburn boss has implemented since taking over at ‘the academy of football’, where an expansive style has been expected by supporters since the days when Bobby Moore and Martin Peters were winning the Jules Rimet trophy in England’s colours.
Big Sam had promised to play ‘the West Ham way’ upon his appointment although he added in the same breath that the ultimate goal was ‘winning football matches’ to get them back in the top flight and despite losing some hugely important players in Danny Gabbidon, Matthew Upson and particularly, Scott Parker – 2011's Football Writers Player of the Year – Allardyce has done just that, with his team scoring 81 league goals in the process, so criticism seems harsh, statistically speaking at least.
The problem with the clear favorites tag West Ham have been given is that it just seems too obvious, too easy, that it surely can’t be so clear cut in a game which will be so eagerly contested and intensified, so what, basically, is the catch here?
The catch is, quite simply, Blackpool, and their occasionally insightful, infrequently enthralling but constantly unpredictable boss Ian Holloway and his rag-tag ensemble of players, a side very much made up in their bosses’ own image. The Seasiders were possibly the best thing about the Premier League in 2010-2011 despite their final day relegation, scoring as many goals as fifth-placed Spurs but also conceding more than any other club in the division that season and playing their full part in some extraordinary games along the way; a 5-3 loss at Everton after being 3-2 up with 15 minutes to play springs to mind.
They’ve refreshingly stuck to their gung-ho/kamikazee principles throughout this season’s Championship campaign with a goalscoring record almost perfectly reversed from last season of 79 for and 59 against. The interesting thing about their goalscoring statistics is that only the evergreen Kevin Phillips – their top-scorer with 16 – has hit double-figures in league goals for Blackpool (on a list which sees Liverpool’s Jonjo Shelvey lie in fourth after six goals during ten impressive loan appearances), whereas three players in the West Ham ranks have broken that barrier , while Holloway’s side have also failed to score just once in their last 24 league or playoff ties while their only defeat in 12 came at champions Reading.
The Tangerines are too erratic to recommend despite their hugely-enticing odds of 11/4 but odds of 5/6 on over 2.5 goals looks to be a terrific shout when both teams have been full of goals throughout the season while gutsier punters might just fancy the chances of a third straight meeting of these two sides producing over 3.5 goals at 11/5. Half-time/Full-time markets are usually best left to the criminally insane but in these types of winner-takes-all games with attack-minded teams the 22/1 on Blackpool/West Ham and 28/1 for the opposite to take place could be a chance worth taking a small punt on for big rewards, while West Ham’s Kevin Nolan – one of those to break the ten-goal mark for his side this season – could be worth a stab at 7/1 for the first goal and a very workable 15/8 to score at any time with Matt Phillips a decent 11/4 shout to hit the back of the net at any stage for Holloway’s exciting side.