Fans’ panel: Play-off preview

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Fair enough, Blackpool should have won by a wider margin and may regret not taking more chances, but going into Friday’s first leg most fans would have settled for a one-goal victory ... and our panellists see plenty of reasons for optimism ahead of tomorrow’s rematch.

PETER GILLATT

It was terrific to see Bloomfield Road bouncing again on Friday night as all sides of the ground raised the roof and, despite GTF and Stephen Dobbie coming agonisingly close, Pool have to settle with a slender lead to take to St Andrew’s.

This was no more than the advantage we had over Nottingham Forest in our last appearance in the play-offs and we all remember what happened on that fantastic night at the City ground.

As was proved back in 2010 a hard-fought single goal lead can be overturned so quickly and I was just entering the ground at Forest when Earnshaw equalised after only seven minutes.

Just the kind of start we didn’t need in front of 28,000 in what was a real cauldron at the City ground. This time around we now have a settled defence that apart from Millwall has kept five clean sheets. Alex Baptiste and Ian Evatt not only defended superbly they pushed forward at every opportunity.

Barry Ferguson and Angel Martinez’s sharp passing in midfield made sure Tom Ince and Matty Phillips had plenty of opportunities to give the City defence nightmares, and once again Stephen Dobbie’s and GTF’s ball skills created numerous chances to add to Pool’s lead.

They will hopefully cause City more problems than they may be expecting at St Andrew’s.

Man of match: Gary Taylor-Fletcher

PHIL CORBETT

A great night at Bloomfield Road when the team completely outplayed Birmingham but failed to capitalise on great chances.

Right from the off, we had their attack shackled while Ince in particular, were creating havoc in their defence.

It’s not so much the final score as the performance that was so pleasing and I see no reason why we can’t go down to St Andrew’s and do the same.

They will be expecting us to sit back and defend what we have, but we just don’t do that. The new-found defensive solidity has given us a real platform to control games and with both Ferguson and Angel running the show in the middle, and Dobbie a real threat off the front men, we look a well-balanced side.

I thought GTF had a great game, with intelligent headers and touches getting his fellow forwards involved at all times. In many ways, history seems to be repeating itself as we now go to a team with a good home record, but 10 consecutive play-off wins demonstrates we revel in this format.

What is so heartwarming is that we can go into such a pressure game and enjoy it.

Finally, it would be fitting if we can progress on Wednesday night as a tribute to the fan who so sadly passed away during the game.

Man of match: Tom Ince

MIKE MORRISON

It’s a bit of a cliche, but it rings so true: to have a successful season your whole squad must contribute.

Our phenomenal strike force may have fired us to the play-offs but it’s our defence that will now see us up.

I’ve taken some stick for my criticism of our back four, but they’ve had nothing but praise lately.

And I’m willing to bet there’s not a single fan out there that predicted we’d keep six clean sheets in just eight games. In the six games we played in April, we conceded just three goals, compared to 13 in seven in March.

We should and could have scored more against Birmingham and they’ll be fancying their chances now, but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t either. We have the best manager in the league and one of the best teams.

That, plus our new-found defensive strengths means I have no doubt we will be meeting West Ham at Wembley.

And although the Hammers really turned us over when they met us this season – scoring eight in the process – Big Sam can’t afford to bottle it considering the money they’ve spent. We’ll be able to play with freedom, and that’ll be enough to see us emerge victorious.

Finally, I must offer my condolences to the family of the gentleman who sadly passed away after becoming ill at the game. I hope there’s some consolation in that he was doing something he loved. RIP.

DAVE WHITE

I’m glad the players looked far less nervous than I felt before and during the game as we managed to claim a tight victory which probably leaves both sides feeling reasonably pleased. We can be happy that just a draw at St Andrew’s will take us through, but fans and players of Birmingham City will know they could and should have been more than one goal behind.

With absolutely no surprises in our chosen starting 11 the match got off to a cagey opening with both sides testing each other’s defence. After a while we settled down and started to look much the better team; we kept possession better, created far more, and stayed solid at the back.

Having already stung the palms of Doyle in the Birmingham net with a Dobbie long-range effort, Tom Ince decided to have a go as well and despite his shot being not quite as powerful or as accurate managed to get the vital deflection to take it into the net. If you don’t shoot you don’t score!

As for the second half it seemed inevitable that we would score again but despite our best efforts just couldn’t manage it, with chances coming thick and fast as the half progressed. We were fortunate not to concede right at the end with a chance for King, but with the game ending 1-0 the tie is poised on a real knife edge.

We can expect a volatile atmosphere tomorrow night. Man of the match: Angel Martinez

FIONA MARTIN

I said going into Friday night that the main thing was emerging with a win, however that came. In that sense it was very much mission accomplished.

As nice as it would have been to go with a bigger advantage, I do think that only one goal might actually play into our hands tomorrow. We’ve been here before, remember?

Back to Friday night though, and we were excellent. Defensively superb, despite the problems that Marlon King caused us, another clean sheet does us the world of good. We need to be careful with King – I kept waiting for that one time the flag didn’t go up. Ian Evatt was magnificent against him.

There’s no point worrying about what Birmingham do, though, we have to focus on ourselves. Ferguson and Martinez were both outstanding and really grew into the game and ran the midfield. Ince terrorised all night, Phillips worked hard going forward and defensively, Crainey had the better of Burke, and the intelligence and link up play of both Dobbie and Taylor-Fletcher can be a sight to behold.

We can only focus on playing our game, doing everything we do well, trying to get an early goal, and performing to the best of our abilities. It’s about taking a game at a time, and tomorrow is just that – one game.

Birmingham should be worried about us, and what we can do. I know the lads will give it everything, and leave us proud of them. Come on you Pool.

Man of match: Angel Martinez