Ian Holloway insists Blackpool have come back from being “a dead duck” last summer after guiding the club to the play-off final at Wembley.
The Seasiders are just 90 minutes from making an immediate return to the Barclays Premier League as they prepare to meet West Ham at Wembley on May 19 in the most lucrative match in world football.
Leading 1-0 from the first leg of their semi-final against Birmingham, tonight’s absorbing 2-2 draw at St Andrew’s saw the Seasiders progress.
The club’s relegation from the top flight on the final day of last season, after just one year among England’s elite, resulted in the departures of prized asset Charlie Adam as well as the likes of David Vaughan and DJ Campbell.
It makes the Seasiders’ progression to the showpiece final arguably even more remarkable than two years ago, when they went on beat Cardiff.
Holloway left comparisons down to other people, but said: “If you asked me last summer when I lost all those players, I would have said this was a dead duck but it certainly isn’t.
“This club doesn’t lie down, we keep going. We try and do it in a decent way.
“I’m very proud, I’m proud my lads came here and tried to pass the ball, you almost saw what we were like.
“But with the opposition, as any boxing fight will tell you, you could get knocked out at any second if you’ve got a weak chin. It looked like we might have one but we haven’t.”
Blackpool progressed following a pulsating night of action.
The visitors took firm control of the tie with two goals minutes either side of half-time from Stephen Dobbie and Matt Phillips, establishing a 3-0 aggregate lead.
Nikola Zigic gave Blues a glimmer of hope before skipper Curtis Davies headed them level on the night in front of an electric home crowd, but the hosts could not find that crucial winner to level the overall tie and their 62nd match of a long season proved the last.
Holloway added: “I’m lost for words, first time in my life I think.
“It looked like we had done our job and were going to see it through, and what a comeback, it was quite amazing.
“I couldn’t get any sense, I couldn’t get any message out there, I tried a couple of substitutions and that still didn’t stop the flow.
“If they had scored a third one I couldn’t see us living with it, it was immense. I’ve never seen a game twist liked that so quickly.”
Birmingham boss Chris Hughton admitted Blackpool deserved to progress on the overall balance over both legs but could not hide his pride at his team’s fightback.
It was pride that was replicated in the stands at the full-time whistle as naturally disappointed home fans clapped their side off the pitch, singing the name of Hughton as speculation no doubt grows connecting him to the forthcoming vacancy at West Brom.
Hughton said: “I’m just so pleased because the fact they scored just before half-time and just afterwards, there’s a trail of thought that that’s it, the tie’s over.
“I’m just so pleased we were able to make a real fight of it towards the end. At 2-2 with 15 minutes to go...
“Over the two legs they were the better team, but we showed what we showed all season and that’s a lot of character.”
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