Hammers v Tottenham

A late winner from Yossi Benayoun destroyed Tottenham Hotspur's dreams of Champions League football next season and ensured a fantastic ninth-place finish for Hammers at the end of our first campaign back in the Premiership.

The Israeli midfielder struck a superb individual effort in the 80th minute to seal a 2-1 victory after Hammers old-boy Jermain Defoe goal just before half-time had cancelled out Carl Fletcher's stunning long-range opener. Hammers could even afford to miss a second-half penalty, as Paul Robinson kept out Teddy Sheringham's spot-kick.

With Arsenal winning their final game at Highbury 4-2 against Wigan Athletic, the results meant that the Gunners finished above their deadly rivals in fourth place and we kept Paul Jewell's team below us in 10th place to become the highest-finishers from last year's three promoted sides.

A day of excitement and tension had always been guaranteed, but the drama certainly began a lot sooner than anyone could have expected, when news broke around midday that several of Tottenham's players had been struck down with food poisoning at their London hotel.

With only two hours to go before kick-off, there were major doubts that the game would actually go ahead, given that seven or eight members of the Spurs camp were reported to be ill. However, following the involvement of Premier League officials, the visitors announced that they would be fulfilling the fixture at the scheduled time of 3.00pm.

And as the teams were revealed, it was ironically Alan Pardew who made the most changes to his starting line-up. Following last Monday's 1-0 win at West Brom, there were four switches, as Benayoun, Ferdinand, Konchesky and Sheringham came in for Reid, Ward, Dailly and Ashton, while Spurs made just two changes after their 1-0 victory over Bolton last week.

With the atmosphere inside Upton Park building to a frenzy before the first whistle had even been blown, it was no surprise to see the game begin in explosive style - with tackles flying in and end-to-end attacking football that made it clear goals would be on the cards.

Sheringham - lining up against his former club - saw a 25-yard free-kick deflected wide for a corner inside the first two minutes, before Benayoun fired a decent chance past the far post after being set up by Bobby Zamora, also in action against his previous employers.

However, Hammers were soon rewarded for their bright start, with the opening goal from a fairly unlikely source after just 10 minutes. There didn't appear to be much danger for Spurs when Carl Fletcher picked the ball up some 40 yards out but, as his opponents backed off, the Welsh midfielder advanced forward before firing a swerving low shot past Robinson from 25 yards out for his first goal of the campaign.

The celebrations almost lifted the Upton Park roof off, and it could have been 2-0 just seven minutes later when Sheringham released Benayoun, but this time the Israeli saw his effort blocked by a defender.

On the half hour mark, Hammers were presented with an indirect free-kick just six yards out after Robinson inexplicably picked up a deliberate back-pass, but Sheringham surprisingly wasted the opportunity and, just three minutes later, Spurs were level with a goal out of the blue, created by their two former Hammers.

Michael Carrick - one of the unlucky food poisoning victims - threaded a pass into the right-hand channel for Defoe, who held off Ferdinand before expertly squeezing a low shot past the despairing dive of Shaka Hislop into the bottom corner of the net.

At that point, with Arsenal also drawing against Wigan, Tottenham were in control of the coveted fourth spot but, as the teams walked off at half-time, it was clear that there would be plenty more twists and turns to come in the second half.

And just six minutes after the restart, the hosts were handed a glorious opportunity to restore their advantage and pile the pressure back on Spurs when Finnish midfielder Teemu Tainio tripped Bobby Zamora in the penalty area, leaving referee Chris Foy with no alternative but to point to the spot. However, normally so ice-cool in those situations, Sheringham uncharacteristically went for power and saw his low effort held by Robinson.

Despite that setback, Hammers continued to attack and, with Spurs clearly not firing on all cylinders, further opportunities arose in front of goal. Benayoun was put through again by Zamora, but Korean defender Young-Pyo got back to clear the danger, while Sheringham scuffed a near-post volley from a corner and Ferdinand's follow-up effort was blocked.

With 25 minutes remaining, Pards sent on Marlon Harewood for the tiring Teddy, and the sudden addition of blistering pace to the Hammers front-line ensured the impetus remained with us. Spurs rallied briefly, as Keane saw a fierce shot well saved by Hislop, while substitute Lee Barnard came on to form a three-pronged attack with Defoe and Keane but, with just 10 minutes remaining, the breakthrough finally arrived for Hammers.

Some neat exchanges around the edge of the penalty area culminated in Reo-Coker cutting the ball back for Benayoun, who showed marvellous composure to trick his way past Dawson and fire the ball into the roof of the net from six yards out.

With news filtering through that Arsenal's 4-2 lead against Wigan meant that they were virtually home and dry, the dejected Spurs fans began to accept their fate and realise that they would have to settle for joining Hammers in the UEFA Cup next season.

Meanwhile, Pards and his troops enjoyed a rousing send-off as they completed the traditional end-of-season lap of honour, as an ecstatic Upton Park faithful began to prepare for what will hopefully be another memorable trip to Cardiff's Millennium Stadium next Saturday…