Claret Commentary - 2012 Play-Off final
It is five years to the day since West Ham United enjoyed one of the most memorable days in the Club’s recent history – the 2012 Championship Play-Off final.
When the Hammers were relegated in May 2011, the squad was dispirited and disjointed, with manager Avram Grant being followed out of the Boleyn Ground by no fewer than 21 players that summer.
Into Grant’s place stepped the larger-than-life Sam Allardyce, followed by 12 new signings tasked with one thing – get West Ham back where they belonged in the Premier League.
Nine months later, after securing a record number of away league victories, Big Sam and one of those dozen would-be heroes, his inspirational leader of a captain Kevin Nolan, led the Hammers out at Wembley Stadium for the Play-Off final.
Ninety nerve-wracking minutes later, the east Londoners were ready for a knees-up like no other after one of four January reinforcements, prolific Portuguese attacker Ricardo Vaz Te, had fired them back to the top-flight.
Five years on from that unforgettable day, Nolan and the other goalscorer, long-serving frontman Carlton Cole, sat down to watch the final one more time for West Ham TV’s Claret Commentary feature, with predictably entertaining and emotional results.
“It’s the biggest prize in football but I must admit I was really confident we were going to win it,” said Nolan.
After watching themselves emerge from the tunnel, the pair enjoyed watching Cole collect Taylor’s diagonal pass before putting the Hammers in front.
“I’d never seen Gary O’Neil run so far to win the ball back, nor Matty Taylor dribble that far or deliver such a great ball!” joked the striker, as he watched himself putting the ball past Blackpool goalkeeper Michael Gilks.
“Look at the movement of this lad here, Carlton Cole, and what a great touch and good finish! I ran away to celebrate with the fans, because all that side were Blackpool fans, so I wanted to celebrate with the lads.”
I thought Nobes was going to cry and, to be honest, I was emotional too after getting us back up to where we belong
Cole and Nolan then laughed as the No9 gave away possession in the build-up to Thomas Ince’s equaliser, before watching the forward denied by a superb save from Gilks.
“You looked sharp there, big fella!” Nolan enthused.
After watching Mark Noble make a goalline clearance ‘with his nose’, Nolan lamented another fine stop from Gilks, who tipped his volley onto the crossbar with ten minutes remaining.
“I thought it was in! I couldn’t believe it, as he actually got a touch on this too, as I caught it so sweet,” said the skipper.
Finally, footage of Vaz Te’s late winner brought smiles to both former Hammers’ faces.
“Look at the pace down the side!” Nolan laughed, mocking his own lack of straight-line speed. “The centre-half can’t keep up with me, then I saw you and put a nice little ball in.”
“I was thinking goal but I couldn’t do it, but there was Vaz helping me out,” Cole observed, referring to his touch which set up the No12 for the match-winner.
“I was so relieved at that point, thinking about all the work that we’d done. You couldn’t score at any better time than that. Unlucky Blackpool!”
“You could see the relief in everyone, and that walk up to the Royal Box was fantastic!” Nolan agreed. “I thought Nobes was going to cry and, to be honest, I was emotional too after getting us back up to where we belong.”