Match Report - Middlesbrough

Marlon Harewood's 78th minute golden goal earned West Ham United a place in the FA Cup final for the first time in 26 years, as Alan Pardew's Hammers heroes saw off Middlesbrough with an unforgettable 1-0 victory at Villa Park.

The triumph also ensured that Hammers will be playing UEFA Cup football next season, with our opponents in the final - Liverpool - already qualified for the Champions League.

In the week that saw the tragic loss of John Lyall - the last man to lead Hammers to FA Cup glory and arguably the greatest manager in the club's history - the modern-day Hammers responded with a second half performance that John would certainly have been proud of - one of passion, commitment and attacking verve that ultimately won the day.

A minutes' silence had been planned in memory of the great man prior to kick-off but the emotion of the occasion clearly got the better of many Hammers fans, who immediately erupted into a chorus of 'Johnny Lyall's claret and blue army' - perhaps a sign of the growing trend for silences to be replaced with vocal tributes of appreciation.

It added to an already electric atmosphere that had built up inside Villa Park, and the game began with all the expected pace and ferocity of an FA Cup semi-final - tackles flying in and very little in the way of controlled possession for either side. However, it was Middlesbrough who found slightly more momentum early on, as Hasselbaink saw a header cleared off the line by Collins and Rochemback had a fierce shot parried by Hislop.

Hammers' first effort of the half came on 12 minutes, when Harewood turned well on the edge of the box, but the striker didn't quite catch his volley right and Mark Schwarzer gathered easily.

On 18 minutes, captain Nigel Reo-Coker became the first player to enter referee Mike Riley's notebook, when he was cautioned for a late tackle on Stewart Downing, and that appeared to help take the sting out of the game slightly, as both sides began to settle into their natural rhythm but failed to create any real goalscoring opportunities.

Middlesbrough were dealt a huge blow with five minutes of the half remaining, as goalkeeper Schwarzer was forced off with a suspected broken cheekbone following an innocuous aerial clash with Dean Ashton. Young stopper Brad Jones came on in his place, and almost had to pick the ball out of his net with his first touch, but Reo-Coker's nod down was fired just inches over the bar by Benayoun.

A further injury moments later, to midfielder George Boateng, meant that an additional five minutes were added on at the end of the half - certainly not what Boro needed after their gruelling trip to Romania for a UEFA Cup semi-final tie on Thursday.

And as the teams reappeared for the second half, you could almost sense that Alan Pardew's men were ready to rise to the occasion. In the very first minute, Etherington's surging run and cross had the travelling fans on their feet and it remained that way for the rest of the half, as Hammers gradually grew stronger against their tiring opponents.

Harewood saw a volley fly high over the bar, before Benayoun's corner was headed on to the top of the bar by Ashton. Nigel Reo-Coker then sent a blistering 20-yard effort flying just inches wide of the post and, as the game wore on, it began to appear as though extra-time could be on the cards.

However, that looked as if it would suit Hammers more than Boro, who were beginning to look more and more jaded in the closing stages. With just 12 minutes remaining, they finally buckled, as the winning goal arrived in majestic style.

Ferdinand's measured long pass from the right-back spot was met by Ashton, who rose above Riggott to flick the ball on to Harewood. With his back to goal, the powerful striker held off the challenge of Southgate to roll the ball on to his left foot and crash a fierce shot past Jones and into the roof of the net, right in front of the ecstatic Hammers fans.

Ripping his shirt off to celebrate the strike as his team-mates raced to mob him, Marlon was shown a yellow card by Riley as he trotted back to the centre-circle, but that certainly wasn't bothering the claret and blue faithful as they somehow managed to raise the noise inside Villa Park by another few decibels.

From then on, it was just a case of holding on to our precious lead and, but for a few sticky moments, Hammers once again showed the bottle and nerve that has served them so well this season.

Quedrue saw a curling free-kick superbly tipped wide by Hislop, before the chance of the game fell to Boro deep into stoppage time. After a frantic goalmouth scramble, the ball ran loose to a red shirt - but thankfully it was that of central defender Chris Riggott, who dragged his shot wide with the goal at his mercy.

The final whistle then produced scenes of joyous celebration as Hammers sealed an appearance at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium for the third successive campaign. This time, though, there will be no tense worrying about the financial future of the Club through the drama of a play-off final, but simply a day to savour and enjoy, and the chance to lift a major trophy for the first time in over a quarter of a century.

Rest in peace John Lyall.