Ricardo Vaz Tê spent most of the afternoon infuriating the West Ham faithful with his indecisiveness in front of goal, before redeeming himself three minutes from time with the strike that sends Sam Allardyce and the Irons back into the Premier League after a year's absence. It was not quite as breathless a finish as the Premier League title decider last Sunday, but Blackpool were every bit as awkward as Queens Park Rangers and the relief of the West Ham fans at the end was almost tangible.
Extra time, like the match itself, could have gone either way, though in that event West Ham would kicked themselves over the number of opportunities they missed in the second half alone. You could see how Blackpool managed to concede four in each of their two league meetings with West Ham this season, even if they kept their promise to make more of a game of it at Wembley.
"It was a very difficult game for us, especially after they equalised," Allardyce said. "The result was all that really mattered, though, and we couldn't have scored the winner at a better time. We haven't managed a last-minute winner all season, so what a time to do it, in the 49th game. I thought we could have made it easier for ourselves had we gone in two up at half-time, when Vaz Tê had that chance just before the interval, but we kept going until the end, changed the system a few times, and it is brilliant just to go through. We would have liked to play a bit better, but you have to give credit to Blackpool for not letting us."
The first half-hour passed scoreless, which was remarkable given the number of clear chances created at each end. With better finishing Blackpool could easily have been two goals to the good before West Ham properly got started, Stephen Dobbie slipping effortlessly past Matt Taylor to bring a sharp near-post save from Robert Green after just three minutes, then Matt Phillips shooting only weakly at the goalkeeper when clean through from a threaded Dobbie pass. Perhaps Blackpool's best chance of all fell to the normally reliable Matt Phillips after Guy Demel's mistake gave him a clear run on goal and a good sight of the target, only for the eventual shot to fly wide.
After a slow start, and Vaz Tê unwisely attempting a shot from the left byline when he would have done better to square to a colleague, West Ham gradually imposed themselves on the game. Vaz Tê fired wide again from a lay-off by Carlton Cole and Kevin Nolan, Cole headed too high from an inviting Taylor cross, and Jack Collison gave an indication of growing adventurousness when he attempted to chip Matt Gilks from the edge of the area but put his shot over the bar.
Kevin Phillips, playing from the start up front in the absence of Gary Taylor-Fletcher, was struggling either to hold up the ball or make much impression on James Tomkins, and after pushing Blackpool back into their own half and forcing a series of corners West Ham made the breakthrough 10 minutes before half-time. When Thomas Ince lost possesion by the touchline West Ham rapidly transferred the ball forward from the left, and a marvellous diagonal pass by Taylor gave Cole the start he needed to bring the ball down, hold off Ian Evatt and place his shot beyond Gilks. Blackpool's early promise appeared to have evaporated, and they could have turned round two goals down had Vaz Tê put his shot the other side of a post with the defence split open again.
Ian Holloway's sides tend not to let their heads drop, however, and within three minutes of the restart Blackpool put themselves back on terms. A glorious diagonal ball from just inside his own half by Matt Phillips gave Ince the chance to show his speed, and he duly got in front of Winston Reid to slip the ball past Green with a crisp finish.
It was anybody's game now, with Collison volleying over from Taylor's cross and Matt Phillips trying to send Ince in for an identical second but overhitting the pass. Cole forced a fingertip save from Gilks with a shot on the turn, Dobbie misfired with the goal at his mercy from Neal Eardley's inviting cross, and Alex Baptiste put a good chance over from a half-cleared corner. Blackpool enjoyed a brief spell on top culminating in Dobbie seeing a shot saved by Green, then back came West Ham and Nolan thumped a volley against the bar when he seemed to have struck the winner.
Just when extra time appeared a more likely prospect than a decisive moment, Vaz Tê provided the latter with three minutes to spare. His finishing had been erratic all afternoon, but when the ball ran free after Gilks hurled himself at Cole's feet from Mark Noble's cross, he really could not miss.
Cue bubbles, fireworks, and specially printed T-shirts proclaiming Nothing Beats Being Back. Blackpool would have felt the same way, but they had to slink off almost unnoticed. If you believe the hype that this game is worth £90m to the winners, and after a game that was far from one-sided, Blackpool left Wembley looking like they had had their hands on just such a sum and then seen it snatched away.
"We experienced the other side two years ago, and compared to that this feels pretty lifeless now," Holloway said. "I'm just sorry the lads didn't get the bonus they deserved, but we can still feel proud. Half the world thought West Ham were going to win but it didn't feel that way halfway through the second half. Good luck to Sam and his team, though if you are going to go up this is the way to do it. You get the Wembley buzz all through summer and you get another medal."