West Ham United 2 Aston Villa 2
Aston Villa will be following Olof Mellberg to the continent this summer but only after an incredible afternoon which saw the Lions resort to Plan B and the InterToto Cup. A win for Everton ensured it was the Merseysiders who snatched the last remaining Uefa Cup spot.
Over 90 stomach-churning minutes, which saw more twists and turns than the latest ride at Alton Towers, Villa eventually had to settle for a draw at Upton Park while relying in perverse fashion on their nearest rivals Birmingham City to do them a favour by beating Blackburn Rovers on their way down to Championship football next season.
Martin O'Neill's battling youngsters surely deserved something this term and will now prepare for a busy summer with their first InterToto match due to kick off in mid-July.
But the manager will also surely rue those dropped points away at Fulham and at home to Middlesbrough and Sunderland which ultimately cost them fifth place in the Barclays Premier League.
The afternoon was always going to be full of drama and emotion as Villa's Viking defender Mellberg said 'arrivederci' to his team-mates and fulfilled his promise to leave the club safely in the passport queue. It was generous goodbye, too, from the Sweden international.
Last year chairman Randy Lerner distributed 40,000 scarves to fans at the last home game of the season and this time it was Mell-berg making a huge gesture in his last game for the club.
He bought 3,200 Villa shirts for every fan who made the trip to Upton Park complete with his name, team number and a message thanking them for their support.
But the one gift the side were determined not to part with was their European dream, although Mellberg might have been saying his farewells a little earlier than planned after an over-zealous tackle on Luis Boa Morte.
His escape with a booking brought jeers from the home fans though they concentrated most of their efforts on booing Nigel Reo-Coker in his first return to his former employers.
Reo-Coker, however, seemed to thrive from the boos and linked up perfectly with Gareth Barry, once again highlighting just why O'Neill must try everything to keep the Villa skipper who has been targeted by Liverpool.
It was Reo-Coker who almost gave Villa an early lead after finding team-mate Gabriel Agbonlahor who in turn dug out Ashley Young, only for the winger's right-footed strike to smash into the Hammers' side netting.
If a former Hammer was tormenting the home side, then it was perhaps no surprise to see a former Villa player doing the damage at the other end with Nolberto Solano cooly slotting home a free-kick for the opener just as he used to do when he was wearing the other claret and blue.
Villa immediately began their fight back with Wilfred Bouma trying to put John Carew through and then Villa's top scorer trying to head the ball home.
As the temperature inside the Boleyn Ground soared so did the tempo and there was the master of the pace in midfield Reo-Coker to help Villa draw level.
Stiliyan Petrov played a fine square ball to Reo-Coker's feet and as it was whipped out to Young, the Villa winger weighed up his options before poking the ball home past Robert Green in the West Ham goal.
Petrov then found Carew free for what looked like a certain second for the visitors but the striker found Green equal to the task.
News was now filtering through of results elsewhere and with it the first real twists and turns of the afternoon. Birmingham were beating Villa's InterToto rivals Blackburn but Everton had gone a goal up against Newcastle.
Villa responded with Agbonlahor just firing wide before Carew again went close after a good cross from Gareth Barry.
West Ham, chasing tenth place, were certainly still in it at this point and just before half time Bobby Zamora almost had keeper Scott Carson beaten after great work from Dean Ashton.
And so the drama continued into the second half with Villa's pace proving to be the home side's undoing. Carew and Agbonlahor again threatened on 50 minutes, only to be denied by an excellent save from Green, and then Green was busy again to deny Petrov.
Now the crowd had heard that Newcastle had equalised against Everton and among the Villa contingent nails were being chewed to the quick.
Barry, back to his best, now rallied his troops again and managed to earn Villa a corner and as the visitors upped the ante they were rewarded with a 59th minute goal. Again Barry and Reo-Coker combined - this time with the skipper bearing the gift of a goal although fans will be hoping it is not a parting one.
Word again came through that Everton were ahead again. But this was swiftly followed by the news that back home in Brum, Villa's neighbours were doing all they could to help ensure Villa's InterToto passage.
As the clock wound down Villa fans dared to dream that Europe was at last within touching distance. And despite a late great goal from Ashton, the task O'Neill had set his team all those months ago was finally achieved.
Mellberg was finally able to say his goodbyes as the supporters held the shirts he had bought them aloft. He is off to Europe but then so are his team-mates. Mission accomplished.
Scorers: Solano (8) 1-0, Young (14) 1-1, Barry (58) 1-2, Ashton (88) 2-2.
WEST HAM (4-4-2): Green; Neill, Tomkins, Ferdinand, McCartney (Pantsil, 46); Solano, Noble (Sears, 80), Parker, Boa Morte; Zamora (Cole, 73), Ashton. Subs: Wright, Mullins.
ASTON VILLA (4-4-2): Carson, Mellberg, Laursen, Knight, Bouma, Barry, Petrov, Reo-Coker, Young, Carew (Harewood, 86), Agbonlahor. Subs: Taylor, Salifou, Routledge, Maloney.
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral).
Bookings - West Ham: Neill, Parker. Aston Villa: Mellberg, Petrov.