Hammers Clinch Play-off Place

WEST Ham United have clinched their place in the Play-offs with a 2-1 victory over Watford at Vicarage Road.

Anton Ferdinand's first goal for the Club and a Marlon Harewood penalty were enough to give Hammers all three points and set-up a mouthwatering repeat of last season's Play-off semi-final against Ipswich Town.

Alan Pardew kept faith with the team that lost 2-1 to Sunderland, the only selection surprise seeing the return of defender Christian Dailly to the bench after eight months out following a knee operation. Matty Etherington was passed fit after recovering from the thigh strain he sustained against the Black Cats.

Backed by a magnificent contingent of travelling Hammers fans Alan Pardew's men started the game brightly. But it was Watford who had the first goal-bound effort, midfielder Hameur Bouazza dragging his shot well wide.

With all that was riding on the game it was no real surprise that it took time for Hammers to get into their stride. Marlon Harewood did have the ball in the net on 16 minutes, but it was ruled out for a blatant offside.

The West Ham fans let out a huge cheer when news filtered through that Wigan had taken a two-goal lead at home to Reading, but back at Vicarage Road goalscoring chances were few and far between as the teams cancelled each other out in the opening 40 minutes.

On 37 minutes Hammers worked a wonderful opening, Harewood sliding a free-kick into Bobby Zamora, who played in Matty Etherington. He returned the favour with a low cross to Zamora but the striker failed to make contact and the perfect training ground move broke down, giving Watford time to clear their lines.

An inactive opening half was suddenly bubbling into life, when two minutes later Harewood broke loose from the shackles of Danny Cullip and his miss-hit shot bobbled in front of Alec Chamberlain and forced the Watford goalkeeper into a smart save.

West Ham's pressure was beginning to tell, and on 42 minutes Hammers took the lead. A corner from the right came out to Etherington on the opposite flank and his cross dropped perfectly on the foot of Anton Ferdinand who volleyed home from 12 yards out.

His delight was obvious, the 20-year-old sprinting the length of the pitch to celebrate with the joyous Hammers fans behind Jimmy Walker's goal.

What a time for the Academy graduate to score his first goal for the Hammers, a strike that gave Alan Pardew's men a vital 1-0 lead at half-time. 

HT: 1-0

Watford began the second-half well and should have equalised when Ashley Young's cross from the right found Hameur Bouazza, but he glanced his free header well wide after a rightly annoyed Walker was left exposed.

The home side began to crank up the pressure on the Hammers defence and Walker was forced to make a good save at the feet of Anthony McNamee from a corner.

At the other end, an electrifying run from Etherington ended with a low shot that Chamberlain saved comfortably at his near post, before Al Bangura let fly with a long range effort for Watford that was well wide.

It was Hornets enjoying more of the attacking possession, but at the back Ferdinand and Elliott Ward led an excellent Hammers defence.

Then, on 68 minutes, Hammers were presented with a great chance to make it two. The ball found Marlon Harewood on the edge of the box and his shot smashed straight into the arm of Jason Chambers.

Harewood stepped up to take the kick himself and made no mistake, drilling the penalty past Chamberlain to make it 2-0.

Matty Etherington departed soon after to a raptuous reception from the Hammers faithful, local favourite Mark Noble his replacement, but the game began to slow down as it entered the final quarter with Alan Pardew's men looking to secure the three points they needed.

Sergei Rebrov replaced the hard-working Shaun Newton on 83 minutes for a cameo performance, but with Reading losing Hammers work appeared to be done.

The West Ham fans reflected the mood, with a carnival of noise inside Vicarage Road as the game entered its final five minutes. It went to Tomas Repka's head in the 86th minute and his wild challenge on Watford captain Heidar Helguson earned the Czech player a booking.

Moments later Repka was on the receiving end of Helguson's guile as the Hornets striker went to ground after minimal contact and referee Andy D'Urso pointed to the spot.

Helguson picked himself up to beat Walker from the spot and make it 2-1. Hammers responded with a curling effort from Rebrov that Chamberlain was right behind, while seconds later the Ukraine international went in the book as the referee began to shower Vicarage Road with an end of season yellow card flurry.

Watford put on a late show for their home fans and in stoppage time Jimmy Walker made two magnificent saves to protect West Ham's lead. The first came with a wonderful diving stop from Jay DeMerit's 25 yard free-kick, while from the resulting corner he somehow contorted his body to push Dominic Blizzard's header over the bar.

The final whistle was met with jubilation by the 4,700 West Ham fans inside Vicarage Road as their Play-off place was confirmed, third-place Ipswich the prospective opponents.