In the final instalment of this week in Hammer’s History we will take the liberty of slightly elongating the week to the nine days, 22 to 30 May, in order to capture the two Championship Play-Off Finals of 2004 and 2005.
The 2003/04 season was Alan Pardew’s first in the managerial hot-seat. He joined on 18 October 2003 with the Hammers in 4th spot in the Championship and after an initial wobble they remained a top six occupant for the majority of the season without ever threatening the automatic promotion places; eventually finishing back where Pardew’s tenure had begun in 4th position.
The Play-Off final was an all-London affair against Iain Dowie’s Crystal Palace, who owed their play-off spot to a late West Ham equaliser against Wigan in the final match of the regular season. The match was played at the Millennium Stadium and, despite having secured a ticket, work commitments meant that I ended watching on TV in a Las Vegas bar at 6 in the morning. After a frenetic opening the game settled into a cagey affair, with West Ham’s dominating possession but with few real chances at either end. Palace took the lead when Stephen Bywater could only parry a shot from Johnson allowing the overweight Shipperley to nip in and score from close range. West Ham had ‘goals’ from David Connolly and Bobby Zamora ruled out for offside, and a blatant foul on Michael Carrick in the area was ignored by the referee, in the aftermath but were unable to get back on level terms. An abiding memory from the day (apart from the hostile atmosphere in the bar and the helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon in the afternoon) were the strange substitutions by Pardew when he hauled off all three of his strikers once we had gone a goal down and were in desperate need of a goal. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!
Bywater, Dailly, Melville, Mullins, Repka, Carrick, Etherington, Lomas, Connolly (Hutchison), Harewood (Reo-Coker), Zamora (Deane)
A year later it was back to the same venue for another go, this time against old foes from the 1964 Cup Final, Preston North End. In the league the Hammers had failed to impress and only confirmed their place in the Play-Offs on the last day when they scrambled into 6th spot; opponents Preston had finished one place higher and had completed a league double over West Ham.
It was Hammers who were quickest out of the blocks in the final with Tomas Repka’s shot against the post after four minutes the first of a handful of first half chances that went begging. West Ham were also solid in defence and although Preston were able to threaten from set pieces the game remained scoreless at the break. The multi-million pound breakthrough and winning goal came after 57 minutes as a Matthew Etherington cross was hooked home by Zamora. There was late drama when Jimmy Walker had to be replaced by Bywater due to injury but the Hammer’s resisted a late Preston push for a leveller to reclaim top flight status amid huge sighs of relief.
Walker (Bywater), Repka, Ferdinand, Ward, Powell, Newton (Noble), Reo-Coker, Mullins, Etherington, Harewood, Zamora (Dailly)