It was written in the stars: Matt Scrafton's verdict on Blackpool's promotion to the Championship after Wembley triumph against Lincoln
It’s been clear for months now that Blackpool were simply destined for promotion.
As regular readers of my articles will know, I’m as cynical as they come, so I don’t believe in superstitions, jinxes or anything else of that nature.
But for a while now, I’ve been absolutely certain that a return to the Championship was simply written in the stars for the Seasiders. In life, some things are just meant to be.
Of course, there’s always that nagging doubt in the back of your mind that something could always go wrong along the way. After all, the margins between victory and glory, and defeat and dejection can often be ridiculously fine.
All it takes is a refereeing decision to go against you, an untimely injury - like the one in-form Ellis Simms suffered in the final minute of the final training session before a play-off final - or, heck, even a freak own goal conceded after just 48 seconds.
But, as Blackpool have demonstrated all season, when things conspire against them, they don’t complain or bemoan their bad fortune. They don’t just cope, either.
Instead, they thrive and find a way to get better, to improve, to do whatever it takes to get the job done.
Since losing six of their opening nine league games this season, Blackpool have simply been imperious. In my five years of reporting on the Seasiders, I’ve never seen such a well-oiled machine.
Because that’s exactly what Blackpool are, a machine. One that grinds out results whatever the situation, whether it’s playing with 10 players sidelined with injury, a squad ravaged by Covid or one fatigued having been forced to play Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday for the best part of three months.
It’s a statistic I’ve often trotted out this season and, once again, I won’t apologise for using it, but since the end of October, Blackpool have been the best side in League One. The points tally they’ve accumulated proves it.
Neil Critchley himself asserted after the final whistle that his side were the league’s third best team and were deserving of their promotion.
For once, I’ll actually disagree with the Blackpool boss. While the Seasiders finished third in the table, for me, they’re the best side by some distance.
Supporters of both Hull City and Peterborough United will say the league table doesn’t lie after 46 games, you finish where you deserve to finish.
But those opening nine games, which actually turned out to be the making of Critchley’s side, were not a true representation of Blackpool’s performances at the time.
As James Husband put it a couple of weeks ago, their performances during that period - on the eye, at least - were ironically their best of the campaign.
But in the end, it doesn’t really matter. If there’s one way to get promotion, it’s through the play-offs. Blackpool, the play-off kings, know that only too well.
The notion of clinching a sixth promotion via the play-offs were in major doubt inside the opening minute, when Ollie Turton couldn’t move his feet quickly enough to turn Brennan Johnson’s threatening cross away from goal. Instead, the right-back turned the ball into the back of his own net.
I always feel sympathy for a player that concedes an own goal, but I felt especially sorry for Turton. The club’s longest serving player and the most reliable man you could come across, he didn’t deserve that.
In truth, there wasn’t a great deal else he could have done.
Johnson, Lincoln’s main dangerman and by some distance, threatened to run riot up against Luke Garbutt early on.
But Blackpool simply licked their wounds, made the necessary adjustments and stopped the supply to the on-loan Nottingham Forest man.
From this point onwards, Blackpool had control.
While Jorge Grant clipped the top of the crossbar and Lewis Montsma blazed over when well placed, the Imps otherwise struggled to create any clear-cut openings.
That’s because Blackpool, playing with the maturity we’ve come to expect from them this season, simply didn’t allow them to.
At the other end, meanwhile, the men in tangerine started to become more and more of a threat.
They should have levelled on 27 minutes when Jerry Yates’ pullback reached Demetri Mitchell, but his powerful drive was too close to Alex Palmer who parried well.
But seven minutes later, the Seasiders got themselves back on level terms through the unlikely source of Kenny Dougall who, prior to the play-offs, had only scored one goal all season.
The midfielder took his goal well, too, lashing home on his weaker left foot after Yates had done well to force a mistake high up the pitch. The ball broke to Elliot Embleton who did well to lay the ball into the path of the Aussie, who took a touch to settle himself before picking out the bottom corner.
If Dougall scoring once was unlikely, scoring twice seemed impossible. But that’s exactly what happened at the start of the second-half when the 28-year-old produced almost a carbon copy of his first strike, only this time a more powerful effort on his stronger right foot.
Yates was again involved, showing great unselfishness to lay the ball off to the oncoming midfielder when he could have quite easily chosen personal glory, swivelled and shot himself.
That sums up this Blackpool side though, it’s never been about individuals, it’s all about the team.
Rather than sit back, the Seasiders maintained their pressure and ploughed ahead looking for another goal to put clear daylight in-between the two sides.
They almost found it, as Yates latched onto a clever flick-on from substitute Gary Madine to bare down on goal, only to chip wide over the onrushing Palmer.
While Lincoln produced an inevitable onslaught in the dying stages, you never truly got the feeling Blackpool were in danger. The damage had already been done.
And so it was left for the referee to blow his final whistle, which sparked wild scenes of celebrations both on the pitch and on the terraces.
While Chris Maxwell, the club captain, slumped to the floor in floods of tears in his 18-yard box, his teammates darted about the pitch in varying directions - not exactly sure what to do with themselves.
The 4,000 Pool fans housed behind the goal, meanwhile, were a sea of limbs - simply incredulous at what had just played out in front of their very own eyes.
On a personal level, I’m delighted for the Seasiders. Much has been made of my Lincoln connections during the build-up to today’s final and the conflict of interests I had at Wembley.
But Blackpool were fully deserving of their victory and they’re fully deserving of their promotion.
I might be speaking out of line here as I wasn’t involved with the club back in 2010, when the Seasiders capped off the greatest trip with a previously unthinkable promotion to the Premier League.
This, though, seemed more special, for some reason. Perhaps it’s because of the pain and hurt the fans had to endure after that promotion to the top flight went to waste thanks to the greed and selfishness of the previous owners.
To truly appreciate the highs, you have to go through the lowest of lows and that’s something Blackpool have certainly had to endure.
So bring on the Championship, bring on PNE and bring on that fancy press food I’ve been told so much about.
Thanks for reading. If you value what we do and are able to support us, a digital subscription is just £1 for your first month. Try us today by clicking here