Comfortable advantage taken into second leg
By Tom Dowsett
Friday 04 May 2012 14:15:00
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West Ham United ended their away fixture programme for the campaign by recording a 14th victory on the road as they beat Cardiff City 2-0 in their play-off semi-final first leg at the Cardiff City Stadium on Thursday night.

Sam Allardyce made one change to the team that ended the regular npower Championship season at home to Hull City on Saturday, as he brought in Jack Collison to replace Henri Lansbury, who was left out of the matchday squad altogether.

Although the Hammers dominated most of the opening 45 minutes, it was Cardiff who were quickest out of the blocks when as early as the second minute, Peter Whittingham had a shot which took a deflection off Jack Collison and hit the crossbar.

From then on, the visitors found their rhythm and took the lead on eight minutes through Collison, as he connected well with Ricardo Vaz Te's pass and volleyed goalwards, only for bluebirds keeper David Marshall to block, but Collison was quickest to the rebound and headed in from close range to give the East Londoners a vital early lead.

West Ham were clearly the better side and they continued to pile pressure on the hosts as they were in no mood to let their second opportunity for promotion pass them by, and they increased their lead on 41 minutes when Welsh international Collison disappointed his fellow countrymen again, as his 30-yard shot took a deflection off Liam Lawrence and wrongfooted Marshall to send the sold out away end wild.

West Ham had the chance to add a third on the stroke of half-time when Carlton Cole headed the ball towards the bottom corner of the net, but Marshall made a superb save to keep the scoreline down going into the break.

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In an effort to try and get a goal back, Cardiff again started the second half well, but West Ham's defence (especially the excellent James Tomkins) held firm and despite all the home side's pressure, nothing was going in for the Bluebirds.

Just after the hour mark, Vaz Te was replaced by George McCartney.

On 74 minutes, as Mackay made a double change replacing Don Cowie and Kenny Miller with Robert Earnshaw and Stephen McPhail, Allardyce then followed suit replacing Guy Demel with Julien Faubert.

With four minutes of normal time to play, a miscommunication between Faubert and Winston Reid nearly allowed Darcy Blake to reduce the deficit, but fortunately for the Hammers he smashed his shot miles over the bar. While there was a break in play, Big Sam decided to make his final change as Nicky Maynard replaced the two-goal hero Collison.

In the five minutes of injury time that were added on at the end of the game, West Ham had two great chances to take an even healthier lead into the second leg. Firstly when Maynard raced through the Cardiff defence only for Earnshaw to track him superbly and secondly in the final minute of the five, when Maynard this time crossed but it was just in front of Matthew Taylor, who couldn't get any sort of connection on the ball to slot past Marshall for a third which would have put the gloss on what was a fantastic evening for the East Londoners.

That was the final chance of the game before referee Neil Swarbrick called time on the first leg. The Hammers take a 2-0 lead into the second leg which is played at Upton Park on Monday afternoon.

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