West Ham manager Alan Pardew admitted it was the best day of his football life after his side joined Liverpool in the final of the FA Cup with a 1-0 victory over Middlesbrough at Villa Park.
Pardew, who once played in the first qualifying round of the FA Cup, now has the guaranteed prize of European football after an emotional afternoon for West Ham, whose players wore black armbands in honour of their former manager John Lyall who died during the week.
Striker Marlon Harewood scored the only goal in the 78th minute with a crisp left-foot shot, after which he was booked by referee Mike Riley for taking off his shirt during the celebrations.
Pardew, who won promotion via the play-offs with West Ham last season and has consolidated a mid-table place in the Premiership, said: 'To get in a position of European football is a fantastic achievement. We didn't get into a rhythm in the first half but in the second half we got ourselves together.
'We played our own game, upped the tempo and got our reward.
'It was a great goal. I was delighted for Marlon in particular, he really has improved. To finish on his wrong side as he did, it was a great finish.'
Pardew is now looking forward to having a real crack at Liverpool in the final. With the Anfield club already having qualified for the Champions League it means West Ham are certain of a spot in the UEFA Cup next season.
Added Pardew: 'We're up against a blue riband side, one who were European champions last year. But we've earned the right to be here. It's a daunting challenge. We've won the prize of a cup final and we're going to give it a real go.
'We just edged it over 90 minutes today and it will be nice to see European football back at Upton Park. Maybe it was our destiny with Ron Greenwood and John Lyall having died recently.'
And he recalled his less romantic days as a player in the cup for non-league sides.
'As somebody who has played in the first qualifying round, I know what this cup is about, dodgy referees and 20 people on the sidelines. But today was fantastic. I am delighted. For sure my best day in football.'
For Middlesbrough manager Steve McClaren it was a frustrating afternoon, especially after seeing Chris Riggott miss a last-ditch chance for the equaliser from six yards.
McClaren said: 'It was always going to be a close game. We dominated the first half. We rued the chances we had. I thought we had weathered the storm but they took the one defining moment in the game.
'At times you don't get what you deserve. We just lacked quality in the final third. Sometimes in football your name is on the cup. Today wasn't our day.'
McClaren, however, wants his side to prove their character and bounce straight back for Thursday's UEFA Cup second leg against Steaua Bucharest.
He said: 'I want them to feel what it is to lose a semi-final, keep that bottled up and use it as motivation for Thursday.
'I couldn't fault their attitude or character. For 24 hours we'll moan and then on Tuesday we'll get back to work.
'We didn't lack the energy or the attitude. It didn't fall for us right. We didn't score in our spell and they scored in theirs.'
McClaren confirmed that goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer had suffered a suspected fractured cheekbone in a first half collision with Dean Ashton.
Said McClaren: 'These things happen in a match. It didn't lose us the game.'
He also admitted he had been told of comments by Middlesbrough defender Gareth Southgate in a Sunday newspaper to the effect that none of the English candidates for the England job, including McClaren, were experienced enough.
He said: 'Until I read it I don't know how to react. It didn't affect our performance.'