West Ham's Day of Destiny With Blackpool: Will Play-Off Expectation Become A Reality?

The expectations of West Ham fans to dominate the Championship has too often failed to materialise. Yet Over 90 minutes today the Hammers can make those expectations a reality.
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The expectations of West Ham fans to dominate the Championship has too often failed to materialise. Yet Over 90 minutes today the Hammers can make those expectations a reality.

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Well, we've made it - nearly. West Ham's stay in rehab could be over in a matter of hours, or we might get checked back in for another 12 months. The gap between the wasteland and the promised land will now come down to the tiny fractions that can turn a year of football on its head. It could be the clumsy man-like object of Abdoulaye Faye mistiming a tackle by half a second, it could be a Blackpool's Tom Ince through ball or a deflection, a lapse of concentration and it is on these factors that the Playoffs seem to turn. Indeed it is for that reason that there is this mystic success that 6th placed teams often find in Football League playoffs, even when up against teams carrying momentum.

Despite this, there looms a sense of entitlement over East London and it has been there all season long. Our opening day loss to Cardiff perhaps should have eroded this but it remains and could be why we sojourn in the land of gas sponsored football for another year. It was walking out of the Boleyn after embarrassing Cardiff that this became clearer than ever, with the club selling t-shirts upon which is printed 'Keep Calm. It's Only The Playoffs' - which causes a problem for two reasons; the first being the painful absence of originality and wit in the slogan, and the second being the idea that we are above this league. To speak candidly, if we were above this league, we would have at least been promoted automatically and we would not have drawn against Bristol City, or lost to Ipswich, Derby and Burnley. The point is that this season has been humbling, and necessarily so - which is why any sense of entitlement to be in the best league in the world is regressive.

Nevertheless, it isn't hard to see where such a thought comes from. After a 5-0 aggregate beating of Cardiff, and only losing once in our last 20 matches (even that to runaway champions Reading) we definitely go into the final as firm favourites. Furthermore a somewhat shaky defence has firmed up in the last few months, and goal-scoring has become easy again. But Playoff matches are less a science and more an art, to borrow the empty-cliché, they are not won on paper.

The point is that this season has been humbling, and necessarily so - which is why any sense of entitlement to be in the best league in the world is regressive.

What fuels such a sense of entitlement is almost surely the allure of Premier League football and the thought of replacing trips to London Road and Ashton Gate with Anfield and Old Trafford which is almost seductive in its appeal. And yet in such a dreamlike state, I almost forget the equally likely future reality of spending another year of conscription Championship football.

This cannot equal, however, a loss of optimism - which may seem contradictory, but the difference is nuanced. There is and there must be a difference between the ridiculous assumption that we - or any club - is too big to fail and the faint trusting that we can leave this wasteland, that we may be the claret and blue lilac bred out of the dead land. But to assume it is foolhardy. Yet I could be wrong - and to borrow another line from Eliot, I did - in truth - predict that April 2012 would be the cruellest month for West Ham, yet it turned out to be fruitful, so I hope that once again I am proven wrong.

The image, however, of Le Big Sam Sans Merci palely loitering his technical area during the final is - for me at least - a more realistic image than that of jubilation - although sometimes for Allardyce, the difference between the two is indistinguishable. So to my beloved Hammers, I set only the challenge of alleviation from N-Power's fiery pits, and in doing so, the hope of proving me wrong.

Follow Tom Ayling On Twitter: @itsthatayles

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