FOR Ian Holloway, this is the moment. He has had a taste of the Premier League – and he is desperate to get back there.
This pre-Wembley period probably isn’t the time or place to get into a debate about what might happen should the Seasiders lose.
But the worry, of course, is that Holloway will be so deflated he might want to start a new challenge elsewhere.
There is no evidence to suggest that, before anyone gets too worried. But whether he would want a fourth season has to be open to debate.
It was hard enough starting from scratch last summer – to do it again might be too much.
But that is a concern for another day. Right now, it is about trying to get the better of West Ham and securing a result that would well and truly write Holloway’s name into the Blackpool history books.
He’s already in there, of course. Taking the club to the top flight two years ago was a phenomenal achievement given the budget and the players at his disposal.
But to take them back would really cement his reputation and give final confirmation, if ever it was required, that he really is a top-class manager – the best at Bloomfield Road since legendary 1953 FA Cup final winning boss Joe Smith. What an accolade.
Ahead of tomorrow, Holloway is excited. Really excited.
“I just cannot believe we are getting the chance to do it again in my lifetime. It is just absolutely brilliant,” he said.
“It was such a wonderful feeling last time but it happened so quickly, it didn’t really sink in.
“The emotions of Nottingham Forest away in the play-off semis and the magnitude of how well we played, going behind yet always coming back.
“And then Wembley – it was just incredible. I woke up the next day and honestly had to look in a paper to check it was real, that it had actually happened.
“Now I am remembering more about that time because we are having a chance to do it again.
“I want to go there and help get the lads what I think they deserve. They deserve better contracts, they deserve to play at the higher level.
“But they have to earn that right by now stopping a magnificent club that have been in the top flight for nearly all my life.”
That would be West Ham of course, a club which screams quality and class. Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters, Trevor Brooking, Billy Bonds. To footballing fans of a certain age, the Hammers were the team to watch. A glorious brand of passing football which earned them admirers throughout the country and beyond.
“Some of the most famous games in my life when I was growing up involved West Ham,” said Holloway.
“Bobby Moore. I actually watched the England captain play for West Ham and thought ‘oh my God’. He was a legend for them.
“Trevor Brooking. What a wonderful footballer he was..
“West Ham are the football academy, and I just can’t believe my team are taking them on.
“But that doesn’t mean we feel inferior. Maybe we are a little more respectful about it because to me a lot of their fans seem to think they’ve already gone up.
“I want to try and say, ‘hang on a minute, that isn’t the case’.”
While West Ham were dubbed the academy of football in years gone by, their current manager hasn’t always had a reputation for playing the game in a manner pleasing to the eye.
Sam Allardyce has long been dubbed a long-ball merchant by the press, but Holloway believes the tag is unfair and thinks Allardyce deserves more respect.
“What people get wrong about Sam is the fact that the structure of his team, the way he wants them to play, is spot on. They are so well organised,” said Holloway.
“They know like the back of their hand what Sam wants them to do, and they are absolutely phenomenal at set pieces – the delivery, the areas they hit, the way they defend them, how big and strong they are.
“They aren’t a long-ball team. Some of their football against Cardiff was frighteningly good. Sam doesn’t get the credit he deserves, not even with his own fans.”
So how is Holloway going to get the better of West Ham?
“I am just looking at Sam’s team, studying them intensely, and trying to put something out that will hurt them,” he said.
“We have to impose our game on them because that is what we haven’t been able to do so far.
“We didn’t impose our game on them anything like well enough to hurt their back four.
“At their place we had a load of the ball but we played in front of them, largely down to the way Sam’s team defends.
“They ran away with it and that was one of my most terrible moments of the season – letting three goals in over a seven-minute period at Upton Park. We just completely went.
“We were also thoroughly outplayed at our place.
“But the group of players who started both those games is very different to the group which has played the last nine.
“We have evolved as the season has gone on and, in the last nine matches, since our defeat at Reading, we have been superb. Unbeaten, six clean sheets.
“We beat Birmingham over two legs and we had taken one point from them in the two league games earlier in the season.
“So that shows how different the play-offs are. They are one-off games.
“Anything can happen – and that’s why I believe we are capable of beating West Ham and getting back to the Premier League.
“How brilliant would that be?”
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