Writer: Eamonn Moore
Date:Tuesday May 4 2010
Two years ago Ian Holloway was a broken man. He stood gaunt, almost disbelieving, as he saw his Leicester side relegated against a Stoke side who had just confirmed promotion to the Premier League. His career, to some, was in tatters - hours later he was out of a job.
Yesterday, Ian Holloway vanquished the ghost of two years ago which had cast a shadow over him as he guided (with a little help from Doncaster!) Blackpool into the playoffs. Three games are all that stands between the Seasiders and their first promotion to the top flight in forty years.
His Leicester side got relegated for one simple reason: a failure to score goals. Whilst their defence was tight, they simply did not score enough goals to convert draws into wins, losses into draws, and so on. Isn't it somewhat ironic then that Swansea found themselves missing out on sixth place for the exact same reason - their 0-0 draw with Doncaster yesterday (a result that confirmed Blackpool's place in the playoffs) summed their season up perfectly.
That hasn't been a problem for Holloway`s Blackpool, who have played open attacking football all season. Indeed, you get the sense that his year out of the game might just be the making of Ian Holloway; by watching the likes of Swansea and Spain, he changed his perspective on football. The result? He's taken a team tipped for the drop by the scruff of the neck and carried them into the Championship playoffs.
Of course there's more to it than that - he's also changed the side's mentality, even if that might just be because he didn`t have the stomach for another relegation scrap. But all this could and probably should be covered in another article... this is a match report after all.
Yesterday was a surreal day for me. As some of you know, I had the privilege of watching the game from up in the gods with my brother, courtesy of the PFA. As part of the day, we got to present Charlie Adam with a PFA award on the pitch (thanks to Tony Parr for his help in sorting this), and enjoyed the company of ex Wolves and Stoke player George Berry and his son. I admitted to George that I'd swap the hospitality, meeting Charlie etc for Blackpool making the playoffs... fortunately I didn't need to. In typical Blackpool fashion though, we didn't do it the easy way...
Ollie made only one chance to the squad that had beaten Peterborough the week before: Ben Burgess returning from injury to replace Neal Eardley on the bench, with Ollie stressing in his pre-match hospitality interview that he wanted as many attacking options available to him as possible.
He also stressed that he didn't give a flying fuc... about the Swansea score; he was solely concentrating on us doing the business ourselves by beating Bristol City, and urged the fans to 'will the ball into the net several times'.
As it was though, we did have to listen out for the Swansea score as we just couldn't quite secure the win against a Bristol City side determined to be party poopers and give outgoing caretaker manager Keith Millen the send off that he deserved (Millen has dragged them from a few places above the drop zone into a comfortable mid-table position).
True, the Seasiders were nervy, but the Robins threw themselves in front of every shot and battled for every loose ball. There was certainly a sense that the Seasiders were feeling the pressure at times (perhaps we're too accustomed to being the underdog?), but on another day, they would have won the game comfortably. Let's hope we take our chances better against Forest.
Anyway, to the match action. The Seasiders had the first chance of the afternoon, but Ian Evatt was denied a sensational opening goal with a cracking header by some gritty Bristol City defending.
The opening stages were very open, and the Seasiders carved another chance just moments later: Charlie Adam firing just wide from close range. On first inspection, it appeared a terrible miss, but having seen a replay of it, he was put under great pressure by yet more gritty City defending.
It was City though who opened the scoring just after the quarter hour mark, somewhat against the run of play. A long goal kick was flicked on by Marvin Elliott to Nicky Maynard. The talented frontman spotted Matt Gilks a mile off his line, and smashed home a brilliant half volley past the stranded keeper. The only thing I can say in Gilks' defence is that he would have not been expecting the ball to find its way straight through to Maynard.
The Seasiders nearly had an equaliser almost immediately - David Vaughan's corner looked to be curling in, but City keeper Dean Gerken just managed to punch it clear as the ball was about to cross the line.
Just before the half time break the Seasiders really cranked up the pressure, but yet again just could not find a way through a battling Bristol City defence. Fortunately as the sides went in for the break at Bloomfield Road, news came through that Swansea too were drawing and that 'Pool were still clinging onto sixth place.
A minute into the second half Ian Holloway was forced into his first change after DJ Campbell had suffered a dislocated shoulder late in the first half and felt unable to carry on despite efforts to do so. Stephen Dobbie replaced him.
Ten minutes into the half and the Seasiders were level. Charlie Adam - who was being watched again by Everton - powered in a freekick that Brett Ormerod headed home with a brave and brilliant diving header. It could have only been Ormegod couldn't it?
Dobbie then drove wide from the edge of the area as the Seasiders began to dominate proceedings and push for the goal(s) to seal their playoff place.
Ormerod had the next chance, capitalising on a mistake in the City back line to race through on goal, but Gerken saved the striker's effort well.
Dobbie then had an effort denied by Gerken, who tipped the ball wide as it threatened to fly into the top corner.
But with no second goal forthcoming, Ollie elected to use the remainder of his subs: Ben Burgess replacing Gary Taylor-Fletcher to almost silence, and Barry Bannan surprisingly replacing David Vaughan.
Ben Burgess had two chances to seal the win with two headers at the death, but missed with both, whilst at the other end Nicky Maynard fired over and Matt Gilks saved well from Jamal Campbell-Ryce (who caused us problems all afternoon). There were other chances too, but it's getting late and you've all seen the game anyway, whether it be live or on tv.
With two minutes remaining at Bloomers though, news filtered through that Swansea had only drawn and that the Seasiders were in the playoffs. Cue mass celebration, and at full time a pitch invasion.
Forest await the Seasiders now, with the first leg taking place next Saturday at 12.45 at Bloomers.
I don't know about you, but as long as we don't lose at Wembley, whatever happens in the playoffs won't particularly upset me (although I'll obviously be disappointed if we don't go up!): the pressure's off us now and I'm determined to enjoy the next few games... I don't know if I'll ever be as close to the Premier League again after all.
Still, as Ollie said in hospitality on Sunday; wouldn't it be nice to be getting tonked by the likes of Man Utd next season? ;)
Date:Tuesday May 4 2010
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