THIS took bottle.
It’s not nice or easy going into a football match knowing that only a win will do.
Yet Blackpool’s players carried that burden on their backs and still produced the goods.
Showing the spirit and character that has brought so much success to the club over the last four glorious years, Ian Holloway’s men saw off north-west rivals Bolton to move themselves to 39 points and put the pressure well and truly on their relegation rivals.
The sad thing is that 39 points might not be enough and how unlucky would that be?
A paltry 31 would have been enough last year. There’s no justice.
We’ll have to wait and find out on that front but at least the Seasiders have done the important bit and won this game. Any other outcome didn’t really bare thinking about.
They will go into the bear-pit that is Manchester United’s Old Trafford next weekend as massive underdogs, but they can take great heart from a wonderful four-match unbeaten run which has come in the nick of time.
Newcastle, Stoke, Tottenham and now Bolton have failed to get the better of Holloway’s side.
It’s just a pity Pool didn’t take their chances against both the Magpies and Spurs.
If they had, there’d be none of this relegation nonsense to fret about.
That was the emotion before kick off, spectators wandering around biting their fingernails and looking distinctly tense. Who can blame them?
Mind you, despite all their worries about the drop, you have to sympathise with the travelling support too – they could have been at Wembley today in the FA Cup Final.
As it was they had to make to with a trip to the Fylde. Ah well, almost as good....
Backed by a vociferous crowd, Pool started fast.
The three strikers, Gary Taylor-Fletcher, DJ Campbell and Jason Puncheon (the only change from Tottenham – in for Sergei Kornilenko), were lively and moving well.
Campbell had the ball in the back of the net on four minutes but Puncheon was adjudged to have tripped Wanderers left-back Paul Robinson in the build-up.
Replays showed Robinson slipped.
The injustice was rammed home two minutes later as disaster struck, Wanderers going ahead in somewhat tame fashion.
Robinson took a free-kick from the left flank, the ball looped over a crowd of players and hit Alex Baptiste on the knee.
It sat up perfectly for Kevin Davies to hit a first-time volley past Matt Gilks and into the top corner.
Bloomfield Road suddenly went as quiet as a cathedral.
Not for long, though. In a game in which Ian Holloway and his players had talked about the importance of the first goal, it turned out it wasn’t that important after all.
On nine minutes – just 232 seconds after Bolton had scored – Pool hit back.
Campbell scored it, latching on to Gary Taylor-Fletcher’s header and showing speed and strength to brush off Gretar Steinsson and lob the advancing Jussi Jaaskelainen.
Quality finish and a nice moment for Campbell, who looked much happier than he had at White Hart Lane last weekend after being told he couldn’t take that penalty.
It was the 11th Premier League goal of the season for the striker, though he was to add to that tally before the afternoon was done.
Puncheon was sent clear moments later.
The linesman wrongly flagged for offside – a bad decision which no doubt Holloway won’t appreciate when he watches Match of the Day later.
It was rip-roaring stuff, a typical Blackpool game – end-to-end, with the action non-stop.
So close on 18 minutes – Adam’s inswinging corner hit Campbell’s shoulder and crashed against the underside of the bar.
However, the ball bounced down on the wrong side of the goal-line. This time a good decision by the linesman.
But no matter. Moments later the Seasiders had turned the game on its head.
Campbell made a dancing run across the penalty area, then Taylor-Fletcher touched it back for Puncheon to smash a curling low left footer into the bottom corner. Fine finish from the lad on loan from – and how many other top-flight clubs can say this? – League One.
The crowd went berserk. Depression to delight in the space of 19 frantic minutes.
Alas Blackpool don’t do easy.
On 24 minutes, the visitors equalised. Matthew Taylor has always had a sweet left foot and he proved it once again by firing an angled shot past Matt Gilks.
The keeper got a touch on it but couldn’t keep it out.
Gilks made a vital stop when he raced from his line to repel Daniel Sturridge’s effort.
The striker was clean through and should have done better.
A confident Puncheon twisted and turned his way past Gary Cahill and looked set to score before the defender recovered to make a fine block.
A tasty moment on the half hour when Gary Taylor-Fletcher picked a fight with Zat Knight (brave man –
Knight is about 6’4 and built like a tank).
After a spot of handbags, both men were booked. The correct decision.
Bolton were next to come close. Kevin Davies didn’t seem much of a threat when he picked the ball up wide on the left. We were mistaken.
His shot, or cross (depending on whether you’re being kind or not), caught in the wind and looped against the bar. What a let-off.
Taylor-Fletcher’s header from a Puncheon cross was gratefully grasped by Jaaskelainen.
That was just before half-time, but the fun wasn’t over as the Seasiders brought the home support to its feet with a goal of beautiful simplicity.
Charlie Adam, a tad quiet until this moment, curled a lovely, inviting cross behind the Bolton defence and into the danger zone.
Campbell stretched his right leg as long as it would go and stabbed the ball in off the post.
A glorious moment but thank the Lord for the half-time whistle – it gave us all chance to catch our breath after a wonderful 45 minutes of football.
The start to the second half was not good.
Bolton came out of the traps faster and Baptiste was forced to put Chung-Yong Lee’s dangerous centre behind before the visitors scored their third goal.
Davies’ clever pass inside Stephen Crainey put Lee in on the right side of the area.
He calmly rounded Gilks before putting the ball on a plate for Sturridge to head in.
Eight goals in ten starts for the on-loan Chelsea man.
Pool were struggling at this stage, inexplicably looking nervous – inexplicable because they had looked so carefree and adventurous before the break.
Then again, the conditions didn’t help – Pool now playing against a strong swirling wind.
But just when it all seemed to be going pear-shaped, up stepped that man Adam. What a goal it was too.
The skipper broke from the halfway line on 62 minutes and advanced to the edge of the box before slipping a pass to Taylor-Fletcher.
With nowhere to go, Taylor-Fletcher kept his head and didn’t get excited He guided the ball back to Adam. Bang!
Next moment the ball was in the back of the net and Bloomfield Road erupted once more. 4-3 between these sides on FA Cup Final Day ... how appropriate.