Date:Sunday May 20 2012
During the painfully slow, excruciating moments Matt Gilks sprawled across his six yard box in a desperate attempt to thwart Ricardo Vaz Te, there was a sense of inevitability at how Blackpool were to lose the Championship play-off final. It was the 42nd minute of a second half they had dominated, missing a range of chances to bounce back to the Premier League at the first time of asking. In a stark parallel to last season's relegation, it was those passed up opportunities that were their undoing.
As Vaz Te - who had failed to put a foot right all game, and almost certainly would've been hauled off by Sam Allardyce had the manager not already made two substitutions - slotted home the winner, you could almost hear the collective sigh of resignation that it was simply not to be the Seasiders' day.
Time stood still. Ian Holloway hung his head, as if mourning the passing of a Premier League dream that he so dearly craves. This is a manager who simply does not deserve to be plying his trade outside the domestic elite. You sense, quite rightly, that he knows that.
Holloway wants more money from the chairman, Karl Oyston, but claims that trying to bridge the expenditure gap is almost an impossible task thanks to Oyston's notorious digging of the key to a pot of untouched money the company currently sits on. For perspective, Burnley's wage bill is in the region of £5million more, while Holloway also notes the chairman's surprise at how well the club had done this campaign.
In his post-match press conference, Ollie was choked up. He once again laid bare his feelings about how much the heroic tangerine squad were paid, intimating that the current state of play is chronically unfair. Obviously, they will now not take a slice of the promotion bonus made available. Whether some of his better players get cherry-picked this summer remains to be seen, but it is whether the club can keep hold of their prize asset, Holloway, that is at the epicentre of a possible promotion next year.
If he, along with the nucleus of what is the best Blackpool squad for many years, stays, there is little reason to suggest the collapse of yesterday's fairytale cannot be erased from the memory in 12 months time. To make a tilt at automatic promotion, canny investment is needed in key areas. That includes up front, with the absence of Gary Taylor-Fletcher's hold-up play and aerial prowess all too sore. He is even more important if Pool are under the cosh for spells against the better teams in the division.
The squad itself only needs a small amount of tinkering. The blueprint when Simon Grayson achieved promotion in 2007 was Colchester United, and now it has to be Reading: the Royals achieving promotion through shrewd signings after play-off defeat to Swansea City.
As has been said numerous times over the course of this season, the way in which Blackpool play and attack has changed. Angel Martinez is becoming a linchpin, Barry Ferguson continuing to do his job quietly but effectively and the central defensive pairing of Ian Evatt and Alex Baptiste are flourishing. Evatt spoke in the week that he has never started a season alongside Baptiste. Hopefully that changes in August, and they may hit the ground running. They should be fed a metaphorical full cooked breakfast on arrival at Squires Gate for pre-season training, curing the harsh final defeat hangover.
After polishing off the final rash of bacon, they will look at the division and find reasons to believe that Blackpool can be a force in the Championship and grace the top table once again. The decimation of the relegated squads to fall in line with Financial Fair Play rules will work in their favour: Bolton and Blackburn specifically have a hell of a cull to manufacture whether they like it or not. It will be interesting to see if they challenge for promotion.
There are reasons for positivity. The best manager in the Football League graces the club with a squad that plays attractive football with a blend of young and old, alongside a fanbase capable of tempering expectations and creating an environment for their team to achieve.
Sadly though, the biggest factor will be the trust Oyston puts in his manager. Given Holloway's vocal stance on the matter [read today's papers] he may have no choice but to loosen those tightly knotted purse strings. It is a toss of a coin: don't invest and losing the manager is a distinct possibility. Spend a little bit extra, still a smaller amount than competitors, and the club will fly.
Date:Sunday May 20 2012
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