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Set for a classic

Peter previews the Championship Play-Off Final

Features - Peter Beagrie Posted 17th May 2012 view comments

Many of the best quality players in the Championship will be on show in the Play-Off Final and I can't wait to get to Wembley to watch it.

I've been watching all the Play-Off games from all three divisions and the sense of excitement and anticipation has been mounting throughout the last fortnight.

I picked West Ham and Blackpool to reach the final and I'm expecting a cracking showdown in an atmosphere that will be red hot.

Phillips: widemen could be key

Phillips: widemen could be key

It should be a sell-out. I've heard that if Blackpool don't sell all of their allocation then those tickets will go on sale to West Ham fans and I hope that's true.

It would seem the right thing for the Football League to do because you want genuine fans in the stadium and I'm sure West Ham could have sold out Wembley on their own.

It's going to be a very colourful occasion with the claret and blue mixed in with the orange and I hope it's a great day out for everybody concerned.

If the game becomes stretched then Blackpool will be the ones to flourish, but if it's tight and compact and West Ham condense the play then they will have a good chance of coming out as victors.

Peter Beagrie
Quotes of the week

LIVE ON SKY SPORTS
Championship Play-Off Final
Blackpool v West Ham

2pm, Sat, Sky Sports 1 HD
Watch on the move with Sky Go
How to remote record

Will West Ham make their experienced squad count? Will the fact that Blackpool still have players left over from their Wembley victory two years ago swing things in their favour?

I can't wait to find out.

Candidates

West Ham were the outstanding candidates for automatic promotion at the start of the season and I suppose you could argue they are peaking at the right time.

Ever since they battled back from 3-1 down to draw with Birmingham in April they have come to the boil and comfortably saw off Cardiff in the semi-finals.

They've kept the ball well, they've been bright, they've been inventive and they have added some creativity. They've been accused of lacking some of those aspects in their play this season, but they have reversed that and produced some outstanding performances in the final few games.

You could argue they've never been in better shape at any stage of the season than they are now.

The squad is full of quality, strength in depth and experience. Someone like Kevin Nolan has experience of pressurised situations in the past, having tasted Play-Off success alongside Big Sam at Bolton.

But even though West Ham have beaten Blackpool handsomely on two occasions this season, I'm standing by my prediction that Ian Holloway's men will be promoted.

Time and space

On the wide open spaces of the Wembley pitch the team with the most individual talents often comes out on top. Guys like Thomas Ince and Matt Phillips fall into that category and will take advantage of any time and space they are afforded.

One of West Ham's strengths this season has been the attacking prowess of their full-backs going beyond a narrow midfield, but sometimes your strength is also your weakness. That could be the case here because Blackpool have the players to exploit the space in behind those full-backs.

If defenders become isolated in one-on-one situations in wide areas then Ince and Phillips can take them to the cleaners. They've embarrassed a lot of good full-backs this season.

Allied with that they both provide a goal threat and both men have a good footballing brain. Blackpool tend to play one striker up front and they know they have to get into the box to supplement that striker.

Stephen Dobbie also has a tremendous footballing brain and has shown himself to be a real artist in his use of the ball lately. He will drop off the striker - either Gary Taylor-Fletcher or Kevin Phillips - into a deeper role to make sure Ince and Phillips get enough of the ball to make a difference.

Physical

However, I do have a few doubts in my mind because of West Ham's physical superiority. They have a big aerial advantage and my worry for Blackpool is not in free play, but at set pieces.

With Carlton Cole, Ricardo Vaz Te (who has scored a lot of goals lately with his head), Kevin Nolan and Winston Reid, they pose a serious threat in the air, while James Tomkins seems to have had a magnet for the ball on his head this season

In fact, I think Tomkins has been a revelation and if the Euros were being held next summer he might have made the England squad because he's been fantastic in whatever position he's played in.

In Matt Taylor they've got a constant supply line of quality from his wand of a left foot and that area will be a cause for concern for Blackpool fans.

So there are doubts over my prediction, but I'll have courage in my convictions and stand by Blackpool

It would be wrong to say it's a game of opposing strategies and team shapes. Both sides possess footballers of real quality and proven ability with many who've proved it in the Premier League.

I think we're in for a treat. If the game becomes stretched then Blackpool will be the ones to flourish, but if it's tight and compact and West Ham condense the play then they will have a good chance of coming out as victors.

I am sticking with Blackpool, but Hammers assistant boss Neil McDonald was an England Under-21 and Everton team-mate of mine, so I have loyalties there as well.

But I went for Blackpool before a ball was kicked in these Play-Offs and while the certainty in my mind has narrowed, I'm going to stand by my call.

Supporting Everyman

Myself and Simon Thomas are going to be wearing the same suits on Saturday, which have been kindly donated to us by Without Prejudice as part of their support for the Everyman Cancer Charity.

The suits feature a distinctive blue buttonhole and Without Prejudice will donate some of the proceeds from every suit sold to Everyman as part of their efforts to stamp out male cancer. We're delighted to support this work.

Comments (3)

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Sandra Pounder (Blackpool fan) says...

Wembley favours Blackpool, Ian Holloway has our lads fit and ready to take on West Ham,even if a few of our tickets remain unsold Wembley Way will once again be turned tangerine and our fans will make more noise. Our players will never give in but agree it will be end to end with the Seasiders taking it possibly by only one goal but that is all, It will take. It will be sporting entertainment of the very best quality!!!!

Posted 15:22 18th May 2012

Jason Fallows (West Ham United fan) says...

I'm confident we can pull the out the victory over Blackpool but for all the credit we keep getting for our so called attacking prowess, our defending has been shocking all season to be honest and we always seem to crack in big match situations...I believe we can and will win but i wouldn't be suprised to find that alot more Hammers fans agree with me that there is a reason to panic as well

Posted 20:54 17th May 2012

Paul Phillips (West Ham United fan) says...

I am a Hammers fan and will be there on Saturday. I have to say that I think your are right on the money with this prediction. If its an end-to-end attacking game I think Blackpool will have it. West Ham need to keep it tight and under control for 90 minutes and we should take it then, as we did against Cardiff.

Posted 16:56 17th May 2012

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