Preston North End 0 West Ham United 1
Bobby Zamora struck the second-half goal that took West Ham United back into the Premiership after a twoyear absence.
The England Under-21 international scored from close range in the 58th minute of the Championship play-off final against Preston North End after Claude Davis had slipped attempting to clear Matthew Etherington's left-wing cross.
This win is as much of a relief for the east London club off the field as it is on it.
With a reportedo r ted £30 million worth of debt, Alan Pardew's side needed to win to claim the estimated £20 million jackpot for entering the Premiership.
Failure was not an option as they were no longer eligible for the £6 million parachute payment given to Championship clubs in their first two seasons after dropping out of the Premiership.
The Hammers, who deserved to win, also had to contend with what appeared to be a serious injury to goalkeeper Jimmy Walker. The former Walsall favourite seemed to damage his knee catching a cross late on and was replaced by Stephen Bywater.
Preston boss Billy Davies will rue the fact that his side rarely played as well as they can, and Marlon Harewood, Zamora and Etherington all missed chances to make it more convincing for the Hammers, while Tomas Repka hit the post early on.
And praise must be given to Elliott Ward, who was outstanding at the back for West Ham.
There was also delight for former Wolverhampton Wanderers player Shaun Newton, who has twice been successful in play-off finals.
West Ham held the edge for most of the first half, as Preston looked nervous and key midfielder Paul McKenna struggled to get on the ball.
Inside a minute, keeper Carlo Nash was forced to make a flying punch to clear Chris Powell's left-wing cross, but he was left helpless when the overlapping Repka smashed Newton's right-wing cross against the outside of the left post on five minutes. Etherington, too, was thwarted when Nash pushed a rising 12-yard shot over his bar.
Preston struggled to trouble the West Ham back four, their 20-year-old striker David Nugent being starved of service in attack.
Nugent, however, threatened from a free-kick when Anton Ferdinand hooked Richard Cresswell's cross to safety, while Czech defender Repka did just enough to avert his dangerous run.
Preston started brightly after the break, and Cresswell's firm header from McKenna's right-wing corner was headed off the line by Newton.
But Billy Davies' Lancashire side had an incredible escape two minutes later.
First Nash did brilliantly to keep out Harewood's closerange effort, then Youl Mawene cleared Zamora's follow-up shot off the line and when the ball broke to Harewood, Nash did well again to gather his left-foot attempt at the second time of asking.
The Hammers had to wait six more minutes to take the lead.
Harewood put Etherington clear on the left, and when the former Spurs man crossed Davis slipped at the vital moment, allowing Zamora to steer a shot into the bottomright corner from eight yards.
Preston tried to respond. In the 64th minute, Nugent's shot was too close to Hammers goalkeeper Walker and then Cresswell volleyed wide from the edge of the area.
Cresswell headed Lewis' left-wing corner straight into the arms of Walker, who was forced off in the 88th minute after apparently injuring his knee taking a catch.
Substitute 'keeper Bywater then saved McKenna's driven free-kick, and Ward hooked a Matt Hill cross clear as West Ham secured a return to the top flight.
Walker could face a spell on the sidelines with his injury but he was not about to miss the party.
He said: "I'm made up for the lads, it's not ideal watching it from the treatment room and I had to go out there because nobody would come in to see me.
"I know I was quite far out, I felt the knee go one way and the leg go the other. But it's a great day and I'm going to enjoy it.