It was the calm before the storm – a no-pressure game in the capital for a Seasiders side already assured of their play-off place.
Here’s the verdict of our fans’ panel on the Millwall match...
SATURDAY didn’t really have an end of season flavour to it, with weather more suited to midwinter, and a number of changes contributing to a disjointed start to the game.
With Millwall in good form going into the game, they started brightly and created a number of chances. We also contributed to our own downfall with a number of misplaced passes, and it was from one of those that they broke and duly scored, with a coolly sidefooted finish from Keogh.
That seemed to wake us up, and we took control of the game, winning plenty of possession in midfield and exerting pressure. We equalised through a good header from Evatt, as he threw himself at a cross from Crainey. By half-time, we really should have been in the lead after a poor backpass was intercepted, but Ince failed to make the most of the chance presented.
Second half we continued to dominate, and duly took the lead with a lovely goal. A number of passes culminated with a crossfield ball to Crainey, who put it back across the face of goal first time, for Dicko to score from close in. After that, we were cruising until we decided to give a few players a run-out ahead of the play-offs. As a consequence, we sat a little deeper and paid the penalty.
We are now faced with a double-header against Birmingham for a place at Wembley. Without over-raising expectations, I think we have the capability to beat them, then it’s all to play for.
Man of match: Keith Southern
THE regular season was brought to an end with a difficult but reasonably entertaining game against Millwall, which neither side treated as a typical end-of-season clash, but with the fluidity of play for both teams affected by the weather conditions and sodden pitch.
In truth, we made a very poor start to the match, and it was no surprise when we went a goal down, as it had been coming. Andy Keogh was left with just a little too much time and space, and he finished nicely. Thinking this might shake the team into action, we were actually fortunate not to find ourselves two down, when a downward header at the back post somehow made its way over the bar.
Shortly afterwards, Ian Evatt showed them how it should be done, with an excellent header from Crainey’s free-kick, and after that we settled down and started to create much more than we had been doing. Tom Ince, in particular, produced some fine play down the wing, but he must still be wondering now how he didn’t score near half-time!
We had much the better of the second half in terms of overall play and possession, and the second goal was well-deserved; Nouha Dicko’s confidence must be sky-high going into the play-offs.
After that, Millwall came back at us, determined not to end the season on a defeat, and, after their equaliser, they pushed on for a winner. Thankfully, we avoided the concession of any further goals – which would have meant a semi-final with West Ham – and the draw satisfied both sides.
So now to the play-offs. We are in good form, we have a strong squad, and the passion to get back into the Premier League is there in both players and supporters alike. I can’t wait for Friday!
Man of match: Alex Baptiste
I’M not sure whether I’ve ever been happier to be proven wrong. Yes, I said Blackpool wouldn’t make the play-offs, and they’ve made me eat my words.
But it wasn’t without a phenomenal turnaround in fortune. To keep five clean sheets in six games – for the first time in over nine years – is quite remarkable, considering how many goals we’ve conceded over the past couple of seasons. Credit where it’s due, we’ve improved ten-fold and it’s largely down to the boys at the back that we’re now facing Birmingham in the play-offs.
The other man it’s down to is Stephen Dobbie, and the insight of Holloway to bring him in. I’m a big fan of Kevin Phillips, but his age can’t be ignored.
I suspect Holloway doesn’t think he’s good enough for the Premier League, but Dobbie deserves nothing but praise.
As for the game at Millwall, it didn’t conjure up any surprises. With his fingers burned last season by the FA for resting too many players, it was predictable that Olly wouldn’t change too many faces. I didn’t really care about the scoreline, so I’m happy with a draw.
Birmingham, West Ham, it didn’t really matter. We’ll have to beat them both anyway, probably, but having fresher legs means a lot at this stage of the season.
Will we go up? I’m cautious, but a voice somewhere tells me we have the experience to do it.
HAVING travelled down to London on Friday, we found ourselves staying in the same hotel as the team, and although we discreetly kept out of their way, when Ollie passed by us at dinner, my friend Pete stood up and shook his hand while thanking him for what he’d done for Blackpool over the past three years.
It was a classic opportunist moment, very much out of respect for Ollie, who could have just acknowledged him and continued on his way. Instead, looking across to our table, he recognised that Pete was actually speaking for all of us and came across. Pete has followed Pool since the 60s, his mum had seen Matthews lift the cup at Wembley, and members of the same family had followed the Seasiders through thick and thin for years. By his own admission, Ollie said he could not be more proud of what the club have achieved and was honoured to be the manager of such a magnificent team, and won’t rest until Pool were back in the Premier League. You can’t help feel that you’re in the company of someone very special if you are ever lucky enough to chat with him.
He has a genuine affection for the fans, happy to listen and answer all our questions with surprising openness, while adding his rich humour and wit, which left more of an impression on each of us than the actual game against Millwall itself. My thanks to Ollie and the team for a terrific season so far, and good luck against the Blues on Friday.
Man of match: Alex Baptiste
IT was a little bit of a strange feeling going into the final game knowing the play-off place was secure, and essentially just waiting to see where we’d finish and who we’d play.
With five changes going into the game, it let those who’ve played a part in recent weeks get a start. The return of Keith Southern is always welcomed, Dicko deserved a start after recent impacts, and bringing in your top scorer is hardly weakening the side is it? It also let the likes of Martinez, Taylor-Fletcher and Dobbie get a rest before the play-offs.
We didn’t start brilliantly, but after 20 minutes or so we finally got our act together. Millwall showed their recent form though, and in the end a point was a fair result. Perhaps the only real disappointment was our failure to clear our lines for the second goal.
This though, is where the hard work really starts. We’ve secured our second highest league finish in 40 years, an achievement worth congratulations in its own right. But now focus has to be solely on Birmingham. It will not be easy, and we’ll need to be at the top of our game. We are capable of beating them on Friday night though, and that’s step one.
The players and management have taken us this far, we now need to support them, believe in them, and trust them to give their all. This has been a very good season, it yet could become a magnificent season. Let the lottery begin.
Man of match: Ian Evatt
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