IF Keith Southern doesn’t start tonight – and chances are Ian Holloway won’t change a side that did so well in the first Birmingham game – it will be difficult not to feel a huge amount of sympathy for the Seasiders midfielder.
What a season he has had.
Testicular cancer – successfully treated – and then, just as he had won back his place and was playing some fantastic stuff, a red card (only the second of his career) which resulted in a three-game ban.
It allowed Barry Ferguson back in and the skipper has grabbed his chance, turning in a good performance in the semi-final first leg.
It means Southern will almost certainly be on the bench tonight, a shame in many respects as no-one deserves success at Blackpool more than a 31-year-old who has a decade’s worth of Tangerine-service under his belt.
He said: “You want to play every game and there is no-one at this football club who loves playing more than me.
“But unfortunately I got that red card, harshly I think, and now I have to hope I can play some part and help the team get promoted.”
Southern knows more than most what that feels like.
“Going up via the play-offs is what dreams are made of,” he said.
“I played at Wembley in 2007 and it was a fantastic occasion but it wasn’t the Championship play-off final – that is a whole bigger and better ball game.
“2010 was absolutely phenomenal and the day goes that quickly you don’t really get the chance to savour the moment.
“As soon as that day ends, you just pray and hope that you get another opportunity to play there.
“We are still a million miles away from getting there at the moment, let’s be honest about that.
“But there is a real opportunity. Someone has to go there and win, and why can’t it be us again?”
Southern admits that whoever wins tonight, West Ham will be big favourites for the final.
But he believes that might just work against Sam Allardyce’s side.
“Everybody will be looking at West Ham. They have the biggest budget and they are the biggest club, so everybody will be looking to them,” he said.
“But with that comes pressure and that can bring its own problems. Expectation sometimes makes things harder. You just don’t know how it is going to go. You can’t call these games.
“If you don’t have many injuries, if you’ve got belief and you can carry momentum into the game, and if you get that rub of the green, it can be your day.
“That’s a lot of ‘ifs’, though, so you have to take it one game at a time and that is exactly what we will do.”
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