The midfielder returned to Sam Allardyce's starting XI in emphatic style, leaving Malky Mackay's side with everything to do in the second leg at Upton Park on Monday
Jack Collison scored twice before half-time in the first leg of the semi-final tie at the Cardiff City Stadium on his return to Sam Allardyce's starting lineup, heading in from close range and seeing a volley deflected in off the head of Liam Lawrence.
Cardiff know they must now win convincingly at Upton Park to stand any chance of achieving promotion to the Premier League.
Cardiff wasted no time in threatening the visitors’ goal as Peter Whittingham blasted an effort from 20 yards, which deflected off James Tomkins and narrowly over Rob Green’s crossbar.
And Green was called into action seconds later by Kenny Miller, whose long-range volley was palmed away by the former England No.1.
But with their first real chance of the game, West Ham opened the scoring in the eighth minute as Ricardo Vaz Te raced onto a long ball down the left hand side and crossed for Collison, who headed in after his initial shot was kept out by David Marshall.
Having gone ahead, the Hammers looked to capitalise on some nervous defending by the hosts and could have had a second goal when Miller inadvertently flicked a cross into the path of Tomkins, but the defender failed to hit the target with a header.
After a sustained spell of West Ham pressure Cardiff rallied. Lawrence had a penalty appeal turned away after going down under a soft challenge from Vaz Te, before Miller set off on a run towards the opposition penalty area and sent a curling shot just wide of Green’s left post.
West Ham responded though, and with less than five minutes remaining before the interval Collison scored his second goal of the night, teeing up a cleared corner and firing in a volley from 25 yards, which was diverted beyond Marshall cruelly by the head of Lawrence.
"The players have handled the pressure extremely well, performed very, very well indeed and give us the great platform for the next leg"
- West Ham manager Sam Allardyce
Cardiff started positively after the break as Whittingham volleyed wide and Miller beat the West Ham offside trap, but the striker could not control the ball and failed to get a shot away.
The hosts continued to press though, and nearly got back into the tie through Ben Turner, but the defender saw his header back across goal cleared off the line by Cole.
With half an hour remaining Sam Allardyce made the first substitution, bringing on left-back George McCartney in place of forward Vaz Te in an attempt to preserve West Ham’s two-goal advantage.
Cardiff went close again, however, when Miller chested down a Turner header but fired over from the edge of the penalty area.
Kevin Nolan was presented with a chance to kill the game as a contest as the midfielder met an excellent delivery by Matt Taylor, but the former Newcastle man could not capitalise and headed wide from six yards out.
Malky Mackay made a double substitution with just over 15 minutes remaining as Don Cowie and Miller were replaced by Stephen McPhail and Rob Earnshaw, while Allardyce brought on Julien Faubert for Guy Demel.
But West Ham pressed again and Cole was inches away from scoring after another teasing ball from Matt Taylor flashed across the six-yard box.
The hosts had one more chance to reduce the deficit, but Joe Mason blasted over from close range after Turner’s knock down, leaving Cardiff needing a comprehensive victory in the second leg on Monday.