A JUBILANT Ian Holloway has labelled taking Blackpool to the Championship play-offs this year a bigger achievement than in 2010.
The Seasiders guaranteed a top-six finish with a 4-0 demolition of local rivals Burnley – sweet revenge for a miserable 3-1 defeat at Turf Moor in October.
It means Saturday’s final game at in-form Millwall is now pressure-free, though the boss wants his team to keep confidence high by getting another win.
Holloway knows how important momentum is going into the play-offs. That’s what a Pool team including Charlie Adam, David Vaughan and DJ Campbell had two seasons ago.
But those players departed in the summer, when the Seasiders lost their Premier League status. Which is why an ecstatic Holloway thinks getting to the top six now beats that previous achievement.
Holloway said: “I think it is a bigger achievement than last time. Other people can think what they like but we have had to totally start again because of the energy we lost following relegation and how everybody felt last summer.
“We lost big players. (David) Vaughan and Charlie (Adam) went to the Premier League, so did DJ Campbell. Jason Puncheon we couldn’t get – Southampton wouldn’t let us have him. And Luke Varney had a bigger and better offer for someone who couldn’t pay it (Portsmouth), and surely there has got to be something wrong with that?
“To lose players of that quality, who played so many times for us in the top division, was really disheartening for everybody.
“This group this season are very different but an absolute joy to manage, I have to say.
“We’ve had the odd blip, like the last time we played Burnley. I didn’t like our performance at all that day.
“But we have managed to turn that right around and I am delighted with everybody and for everybody.
“We have actually done something. We are in the play-offs and now it is up to us to see if we can go any further. I am excited to see what we can do.
“But whatever happens from here on in, what a terrific season we have had.”
Holloway’s men have climbed to fourth in the table and, if they can maintain that position, will have home advantage in the second leg of the play-off semis, against Birmingham or Cardiff.
They could also still finish sixth if they lose in London and results elsewhere go against them, which would mean a two-legged clash with West Ham or Southampton.
But whatever happens, they are in the play-offs and it represents another terrific season’s work by Holloway and his players – though the manager still thinks his club doesn’t get the credit it deserves.
“It is funny, but even throughout last week no-one was mentioning us,” he said.
“I picked up a national newspaper the day after we beat Leeds (last Tuesday) and they mentioned all the other contenders – Middlesbrough, Birmingham, Cardiff – but they didn’t mention our victory.
“I was fuming. My wife said, ‘Don’t worry, just sneak under the radar and keep doing what you’re doing’. She is totally right because that is what it is all about.
“Most people don’t fancy us but who cares. If we can keep our mind in the game it is going to be a tough proposition for anyone to face us.”
Pool have won the last three play-off competitions they have contested. They were successful in 2001 under Steve McMahon, under of Simon Grayson (2007) and, of course, under Holloway himself to complete the climb through the four divisions.
They haven’t suffered play-off heartache since the infamous defeat to Bradford in 1996.
This year’s Championship play-off final is scheduled for Wembley on Saturday May 19.