Writer: Patrick Feeney
Date:Wednesday May 2 2012
When Blackpool rocked up at the KC Stadium to start their first attempt at a return to the bright lights of the Premier League, only the optimistic amongst the Tangerine contingent that night would have said with confidence that the Seasiders would be in with a realistic chance of threatening the big spenders at the top.
Fast forward nine months, and Blackpool are preparing to launch another assault on the playoffs that have been so kind to them in the last decade. The last three times 'Pool have finished inside the magical quartet, they have been the side to take advantage and seal their passage to promotion.
This time may be the toughest of them all, with their fellow relegated teams, West Ham and Birmingham City, also in the shake-up, while the side conquered in the final two years ago, Cardiff City, are in contention for the third year in a row.
It is Chris Hughton's Birmingham City side who will look to end Blackpool's dreams, themselves at the end of a mammoth season which has seen them embark on a Europa League campaign as well as reaching the fifth round of the FA Cup.
The only thing that is guaranteed in the playoffs is that the team who goes up will have to produce their very best football, and with all 4 teams finding their best form in the run in at the end of the season, it is sure to be another exciting end to a remarkable season.
Ian Holloway has heralded his side's achievement of reaching the Championship playoffs for the second time in three years.
The Blackpool supremo said ''It's a fantastic achievement to get in the play-offs, but it's going to be tough.
'To have Birmingham and West Ham in there, and Cardiff who certainly consider themselves a big club, who's going to win? I don't know.'
Birmingham boss Chris Hughton has said he is focusing squarely on the football rather than the confusion around the club's finances.
''At the moment the thought of playing in the two play-offs is taking up 100% of my thoughts, we know there is an issue but it is not on my mind at the moment.
'There is an emphasis from everyone at the club to try to get through to the final and get back into the Premier League. That will take up all of our efforts.'
Blackpool are likely to be without Craig Cathcart for the first leg after the central defender missed the Lancashire Senior Cup Semi Final against Manchester United due to a heart complaint.
Apart from Cathcart, Blackpool have no new injury complains, with Nouha Dicko hoping to keep his place up front ahead of Gary Taylor-Fletcher and Kevin Phillips, while Angel Martinez and Barry Ferguson are pushing for recalls.
The former Liverpool winger has found his best form in the second half of the season, and has cemented his name in the Blackpool first team. With 7 goals to his name in all competitions this season, the wideman will be hoping to help Blackpool to the top flight to face his former employers next season.
Birmingham City will be without first choice goalkeeper Boaz Myhill for the playoffs, with the American stopper sidelined with a thumb injury.
Nikola Zigic has supposedly shaken off a knee injury to put himself in contention, while Jonathon Spector is also set to be fit.
Having scored against the Seasiders in both encounters earlier on in the season, the veteran striker will be looking to improve on an already fine season which has seen him finish as the Blues' top scorer with 18 goals.
When the two sides met earlier on in the season at Bloomfield Road, the match finished 2-2. Marlon King gave Birmingham a first half lead, but strikes either side of the break from the full back pairing of Stephen Crainey and Neal Eardley put Blackpool in front. A late equaliser from Nikola Zigic earned Birmingham a share of the spoils.
Goals from Curtis Davies, King and Nathan Redmond earned the Blues a comfortable 3-0 win at St Andrews against Blackpool on New Years Day. The visitors were reduced to ten men when midfielder Barry Ferguson saw red for an elbow.
Birmingham City (Away)
NPower Championship Playoff Semi Final Second Leg
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Date:Wednesday May 2 2012
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