West Ham’s first visit to new Wembley

Will this be the new away shirt? The picture clearly is a hoax, as the kit already has Premier League badges on it. But ahead of tomorrow’s showdown with Blackpool the Hammers are aware that they are branded as favourites for winning the play-off final at Wembley, and they also know that favourites not always win. Both West Ham and Blackpool would make an instant return to the top flight after having been relegated in 2011.

Blackpool say they have played in six play-off finals so far and have won four of them. For West Ham manager Sam Allardyce (pic below with the play-off final programme) only one of three previous play-off experiences as a manager produced promotion when he took Bolton up to the Premier League in 2001.

Midfielder Jack Collison has handed West Ham a major fitness boost ahead of the Championship play-off final with Blackpool on Saturday. The 23-year-old who scored both goals in West Ham’s 2-0 first leg win in Cardiff has recovered from the dislocated shoulder he suffered in the semi-final secong leg against Cardiff.

In the regular season, Sam Allardyce’s side put eight goals past Blackpool in their two fixtures, beating them 4-0 at Upton Park in October and then 4-1 at Bloomfield Road in February. But the West Ham boss knows that it won’t be easy to beat Blackpool a third time this season:

“We will treat them with the utmost respect and make sure we try to expose the weaknesses they have in their side if we can and as early as we can.

“We’ve got to live with the pressure to spur us on to give us our best performance. The pressure should bring the best out of us and not be one of those games where we actually freeze on the big stage.”

West Ham goes into Saturday’s final on an unbeaten run of eight games (won 6, drawn 2). The 5-0 aggregate victory over Cardiff in the play-off semi-finals took West Ham’s winning sequence to four. They have lost only one of their last 20, since the start of February. But Blackpool also have not lost any game since 31 March. They have an unbeaten sequence of nine games (W5, D4).

I’m confident West Ham’s first visit to New Wembley will be a success. I’m confident … but in football you never, never know …

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