West Ham United take on Blackpool in Saturday’s Championship Play-off Final, and everything points to the Hammers making an immediate return to the Premier League.
Betfair Match Odds: Blackpool 4.0, Draw 3.85, West Ham 2.0
The Hammers looked a class apart in both legs against Cardiff. Okay, the Welsh side had a longer season than most and probably a thinner squad than their fellow promotion hopefuls, but they are still a very good side that was made to look decidedly ordinary both at home and in the return at Upton Park.
Back in the summer, many people felt it was a foregone conclusion that Sam Allardyce's side would bounce back to the Premier League automatically. Whether that spread into the Hammers' camp we will never know, but there were times that you were left with the feeling that they took on the air of a side that believed if they hung around on the pitch long enough, something would eventually happen for them.
They clearly had the best squad - never mind if you felt they adopted the best style of play - but they did appear to be waiting for things to fall into place rather than busting a gut to actually make sure it did.
That certainly wasn't the case against Cardiff. The Hammers took an early grip on the first leg in Wales and then simply pulled further and further clear over the remaining two and a half hours or so. They never looked in any trouble: solid at the back, creative in midfield and a threat up front.
What joy it must be for a defence that has been battling to contain the likes of Carlton Cole and Ricardo Vaz Te to see a striker like Nicky Maynard coming off the bench. No other club has that strength in depth and perhaps the Hammers realised that not going up automatically was a slap in the face to wake them up about what was required to avoid another season in The Championship.
So, I make a West Ham win my best bet at 2.0. For some reason there is a myth that these finals are tight games - but bearing in mind it's been 10 years since a Championship Play-Off Final went to extra-time, I'm more than happy to believe if the Hammers are going to do it, they'll do it without the need for extra time.
And my belief in West Ham is not in any way demeaning the ability in the Blackpool squad, or the achievements of Ian Holloway and his men in reaching the Play-Off Final for the second time in three seasons.
I fancied Birmingham to see them off over two legs, but I had reckoned without the tremendous character in the Tangerines squad, and not to mention the exquisite football of the likes of Stephen Dobbie. They were worthy winners against the Blues, even allowing for some nerves towards the end of the second leg at St Andrews. Holloway has instilled real belief in his group of players, and they show the sort of attacking qualities that fans love to watch, and which excites neutrals.
However, it could be that adventurousness which proves their downfall. They are not a side that likes to sit back and soak up pressure - they want to get forward themselves, and on the wide open spaces of Wembley, that could leave them vulnerable.
Their defensive record away from Bloomfield Road during the regular season was among the poorest in the division: they only kept four clean sheets in 23 away games during the regular season, and as we saw at St Andrews, even when 2-0 up and looking comfortable, they conceded twice. But you always fancy them to score - indeed, including the two Play-Off games, they have found the net at least once in 23 of their last 24 Championship fixtures.
Therefore, combining a West Ham victory with the belief that Blackpool will push them all the way and score themselves leads me to two further recommendations: both teams to score and Over 2.5 Goals.
The emphasis on the sheer monetary value of winning this one fixture has really been increased in the last couple of seasons, and in the last two years we have seen finals finish 3-2 and 4-2: clearly teams are going to have a go, and it's seen as better to go down fighting than defend and get pipped at the post. Indeed, of the 22 finals at Wembley, 13 have paid out on Over 2.5 goals.
As for a dabble in the goalscorer markets, it's no surprise to see both Cole and Vaz Te vying to be at the head of the markets. However, at a slightly bigger price, I think Kevin Nolan offers virtually the same chance of success as those two.
The midfielder has netted 13 times for the Hammers this term, and as was shown in the second leg when he put his side in front, he'll be right in the thick of things at set pieces and has shown a knack down the years for being 'Johnny on the spot' when the ball is nodded on or knocked down.
Back West Ham to win @ 2.0
Back Both Teams to Score @ 1.74
Back Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.08
Back Kevin Nolan To Score @ 8.6