Pool learn vital lessons from Villa clash

Blackpool's Elliot Grandin is congratulated after scoring
Blackpool's Elliot Grandin is congratulated after scoring

THIS statistic was doing the rounds before the game: “Blackpool have scored the most goals in the Premier League from corners (10); Aston Villa have conceded more goals than anyone else in the Premier League from corners (10)”.

Why, oh why, I didn’t have £50 on the Seasiders netting from a corner, therefore, I’ll never know.

The irony of that stat was almost matched by the Villa fans chanting “Blackpool’s a (insert rude word here) hole, I want to go home”.

If those singing it had jetted in from California, then fair enough.

But chances are they were from Aston, an inner-city area of Birmingham which, according to Wikipedia, is “one of the UK’s most deprived places, with an above average crime-rate”. Pot, kettle, black.

Mind you, Aston, in its defence, does have a fine claim to fame – Arthur Conan Doyle spent a spell working in the town.

He was a doctor at that point and while waiting for patients, passed the time by writing stories.

Odd to think, then, that Sherlock Holmes was dreamed up in between treating Brummie folk for in-growing toenails and dodgy bowels.

Conan Doyle clearly wasn’t the type to relax.

As well as being a hugely successful author, he was a goalkeeper for Portsmouth and a first-class cricketer for Marylebone CC, involved in the campaign for the reform of the Congo Free State, and helped get two men exonerated for crimes they didn’t commit. Then after lunch...

As it happens, Ian Holloway loves Sherlock Holmes – his sister brought him a box set of the TV shows for Christmas and apparently the Blackpool boss likes nothing more than to sit watching them. He even has a clay pipe which he smokes, just like Holmes.

“I love the way he’s always just a little bit cleverer than anyone else,” Holloway said. “It’s a bit like football. That’s what we try and do as managers – outsmart each other”.

In which case it was a draw both on and off the pitch on Saturday, with Mssrs Holloway and Houllier, and their teams, all square.

Which is just fine and dandy for Pool, because the only thing that mattered was not losing.

A sixth straight defeat would have been horrible, a huge confidence blow, and worse still, they’d have had 10 long days to stew about it until Tottenham came to town a week Tuesday.

Given Pool played the last 20 minutes with a man extra after Villa midfielder Jean Makoun’s dismissal for a foul on DJ Campbell, there is perhaps a tinge of disappointment they weren’t able to record a first top-flight victory over Villa since 1964.

But considering the way Houllier’s team played in the first half, and the trouble they caused going forward, a point will do just nicely.

It took the Seasiders tally of points won at Bloomfield Road to 12, still less than any other Premier League team on their own ground.

But that’s just a stat. It doesn’t tell the whole story.

Pool fans have seen some terrific stuff this season.

And although they haven’t won as many games as they’d have liked on home soil, I’m sure most will have thoroughly enjoyed themselves and the football on offer.

This was yet another cracking game, more open than usual given Villa’s pace up front and the speed at which they broke.

It is unusual to see visiting sides playing in such an attacking manner – fair play to them for that.

It was lively even before the game had begun, with photographers not only queuing to get shots of Sian Massey (her first Premier League game since Keys and Gray made their infamous and mindless comments) but to get pictures of Holloway and Houllier’s pre-match greeting.

After their row over Charlie Adam’s valuation last month, would they give each other the cold shoulder? Might Holloway kick his rival in the groin? Maybe Houllier would emerge from the tunnel wearing a knuckle-duster and lay Ollie out?

Erm, as it happened, they just hugged and got on with it (left).

Blackpool showed their intent from the off, Marlon Harewood – given a rare start, against his former club – pouncing on a defensive error with the game nine seconds old but dallying inside the area and losing possession.

Villa roared back, Ian Evatt blocking Darren Bent’s shot. For £24m, the striker should have done better – though he didn’t take long to make a major impact.

His beautiful 10th-minute touch set Gabby Agbonlahor free and the striker, quick as a Ferrari but not always as reliable, finished beautifully, rounding Richard Kingson and sliding the ball into the corner, despite Evatt and David Carney scampering back in a vain bid to clear.

Pool were the architects of their own downfall – Charlie Adam losing the ball – but Villa broke with such speed and precision, it was almost impossible to stop them.

But no matter, for the Seasiders hit back almost straightaway.

The equaliser was simple as you like – an Adam near-post corner headed in by Elliot Grandin, his first goal for the club.

How the lad deserved it. He has been excellent all season and hopefully that breakthrough strike will be the start of a prolonged run of goals.

Important too that he scored at that stage. It meant the blow of conceding was quickly wiped out – if the score had stayed at 1-0 too long, the Seasiders confidence might have dipped irreversibly.

Luke Varney missed a golden chance to complete the comeback and put Pool ahead, but he headed Harewood’s cross wide when it seemed easier to score.

Then a loose ball by Craig Cathcart allowed Stewart Downing through on goal, but Kingson made a brilliant save with his legs – an absolutely crucial stop and top marks to the Ghanaian, back in after injury to Paul Rachubka.

Varney had another good chance but failed to make contact with Campbell’s dangerous low ball into the six-yard box.

Poor Varney. He played really well Saturday, but just needs a goal to get him well and truly going again.

This was turning into a terrific game, end to end, openings galore, a beautiful blue-skied day... what more could you want?

What’s that? A shot off the post? We had that as well, Downing clipping the woodwork with a lovely effort from the edge of the box. A let-off.

Both teams continued to look lively, no individual more so than Kyle Walker, the Villa right-back charging around the pitch like Usain Bolt in boots. What a talent he is.

Villa were certainly the better side in the first half.

They look 10 times better than in the reverse fixture back in November when confidence was clearly horribly low – and, more to the point, Houllier hadn’t had chance to spend millions of quid on new player.

Now they are a much improved outfit, which means Pool deserve great credit for the second-half performance, when they got to grips with Villa’s attacking threat and began to impose their own game.

In truth, Holloway’s men largely controlled the second period.

Good work by Charlie Adam and then Varney on the left ended with DJ Campbell chesting the ball narrowly past the post.

Harewood blasted over when he should have done much better (he was subbed immediately afterwards – Matt Phillips on to raucous applause), then Jason Puncheon blasted a volley wide from the edge of the area.

World Cup referee Howard Webb then red-carded Makoun for an unnecessarily wild tackle on Campbell.

The Seasiders sensed blood. Andy Reid replaced Varney, presumably the idea to get the midfielder on the ball and spread play, tiring out Villa’s 10 men.

It didn’t quite work but not for the want of trying, as Pool built up a head of steam and tried everything they could to break Villa down.

Phillips whistled a shot over from 20 yards, but that aside the visitors defence remained impressively strong and the Seasiders didn’t actually create a clear opportunity.

In fact, right at the death, in the fifth and final minute of stoppage time, Villa might have nicked it as they broke.

But with Pool stretched and Holloway’s heart in his mouth, Ashley Young dragged his shot wide.