West Ham: Can the Hammers win their day of destiny?
Forget the past nine months. Forget the fact that West Ham United finished third in the Championship. Forget that they ended the season 11 points clear of today's opponents Blackpool. And forget the fact that West Ham haven't lost a league game to Blackpool since 1966. It's irrelevant and won't mean a jot if Sam Allardyce cannot lead his the Hammers to victory this afternoon in the Championship play-off final against Blackpool.
The Hammers were most pundits' tip to gain automatic promotion this season and they should have. If it wasn't for their poor home form and a terrible run of draws, West Ham United players and fans alike could have been sitting on the beach, sunning themselves with their feet up, safe in the knowledge that they would be testing themselves at Anfield, Old Trafford and the Emirates once more. Instead their season ultimately rests on the outcome of the next 90 minutes or so.
Sam Allardyce and the Upton Park faithful are anything but bosom buddies. His style of play has angered the fans, while he has hit back - which as a manager is never really a good thing to do. However, the fans accept that promotion is everything this season. Of course they would love to see the ball worked up from the back, keeping it on the deck and running teams ragged. Unfortunately the only time West Ham fans have seen that style of play this season has been on FIFA 12.
The Hammers have a talented squad of players and they go into the game as slight favourites. In Rob Green they have an England international, who is all set to head off to the Euros after the game, Kevin Nolan has all the drive and passion that you would expect from a captain and on his day Carlton Cole is simply unplayable. Throw in the creativity of Mark Noble and Jack Collison and the defensive class of James Tomkins and the Hammers have a great spine to their team.
But Blackpool have been here before. Two seasons ago they tore Cardiff City apart in a classic play-off final which they won 3-2 and Iain Holloway, like West Ham, will be dreaming of a swift return to the top flight. The Seasiders only know one way of playing football, attack, attack, attack, and with the likes of Kevin Phillips, Gary Taylor-Fletcher and lucky omen Stephen Dobie around, they will pose the Hammers back four a string of problems.
Defensively though the Tangerines aren't that adept. West Ham put eight past them in the league this season, but Holloway will have learnt his lesson surely and make it much tougher for the Hammers today.
Blackpool go into the game in sparkling form. The only game they have lost in their past 12 outings was to the champions Reading. Can they stretch their run to make it an unlucky 13 for the Hammers?
West Ham have been in this position twice before themselves and felt the agony and the ecstasy. In 2004 they lost to Crystal Palace at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff 1-0. Undeterred they were back the following season and this time they struck gold, beating Preston 1-0. Big Sam also knows what it takes to win these big games. He led Bolton to the Premier League in 2001 with victory over Preston.
The Hammers start as slight favourites, but that is a custom that West Ham have never felt comfortable with. They are at their best with their backs against the walls. The Hammers are more than capable of screwing it all up in the blink of an eye.
But can Big Sam and West Ham win their day of destiny? Whatever you view, we'd love to hear from you.