WHEN Florent Malouda was smashing the ball into the Blackpool net at Stamford Bridge in September, to make it 4-0 with barely 40 minutes on the clock, the Premier League didn’t seem all it was cracked up to be.
Was this going to be a regular, depressing occurrence in the weeks and months to come, Seasiders fans wondered?
Thankfully not. Ian Holloway’s men learned quickly, so quickly that in the second half at Chelsea – after a tactical reshuffle by the manager – the home side failed to add to their tally and Pool created half a dozen decent opportunities.
Holloway believes his team have continued to improve all season. And it’s why, heading into the final 10 fixtures, the Seasiders have a fine chance of staying up and booking a second year in the top flight.
“I might be looking a bit more jaded and haggard than I did at the start of it, but it has been a fantastic season and I am really proud of how we have tried to acquit ourselves,” explained the boss, ahead of tonight’s showdown with Carlo Ancelotti’s Blues.
“Some days it has gone horribly wrong but I’ve tried to keep my dignity and say well done when it’s been deserved, like I did at Wolves.
“Mick McCarthy deserved it because he has had it tough, having to continually answer questions about what it’s like to be down at the bottom end – like I’m having to do more and more now.
“But overall I couldn’t be happier with what we’ve done and I think we’ve come on leaps and bounds since that first Chelsea match.
“Even during that game we learned. We went there with an extra defender (Alex Baptiste played as a holding midfielder in front of the back four) but were already beaten by half-time because they scored a goal every 10 minutes. It was frightening.
“But second half we changed a few things, learned from our mistakes, and then had six shots at their goal and should have scored.
“So in the end that result didn’t do us any damage and I think we’ve come a long way since.
“The performances against Liverpool and Tottenham at Bloomfield Road show we have improved.
“Yes, we have to make some saves and clearances against teams but that’s how good the level is, and how good the other teams are.
“If you look at what they are spending ... there is a team in this division that has one player who is on more my whole club and that’s the truth.
“So how well have my lot done? Let’s keep it in perspective.”
Tonight the financial gap couldn’t be more apparent. While Holloway snapped up James Beattie and Sergei Kornilenko on loan deals on transfer deadline day, Chelsea splashed £45m on Fernando Torres.
Despite the Spaniard’s struggle to score goals for his new club, Torres is the man Holloway most fears.
“I think he is brilliant and I wish the media would get off his back. He is great,” said the Pool chief.
“Is he worth that money? No, no one in the world is. But if someone wants to pay me £50m for my house then I’ll bloody sell it them.
“It doesn’t mean he should be over-analysed and get extra criticism – he didn’t set the fee.
“His movement the against Manchester United last week was fantastic and I think it’s a matter of time before he starts knocking them in ... I just hope it’s not tonight.”
By their standards, Chelsea have had a shaky season, losing seven Premier League games and being dumped out of the FA and Carling Cups in the early stages.
But they got their campaign back on track by beating United 2-1 at Stamford Bridge and Holloway believes there are few better teams in the division.
“Chelsea in crisis? They were a few years ago maybe, but then they were sold to Mr (Roman) Abramovich and they haven’t been in a crisis since,” said Holloway.
“They have spent money wisely and won trophies. They’ve despatched of a couple of managers too quickly mind, but I think they are in fine fettle at the moment.
“They are a very good unit and team, and they could win any one of the top competitions they are left in. Can they win the Premier League? Even after beating United that’s probably the only one they are struggling in.
“But they could easily win the Champions League so we’ve got to take them on, little Blackpool, and we will try to dent them and hurt them.”
Whatever the result, Holloway just wants an improvement on last week’s miserable showing at Wolves, where he still can’t quite believe what he saw.
“The Wolves game was very rare because my lads, to a man, didn’t have as good a game as they normally do. That is unlike my lot,” said the boss, reflecting on the 4-0 defeat.
“But you have to give Wolves credit for how they turned it on.
“I’ve realised that goals at this level are priceless, and the timing of them is so important.
“Goals really matter and that’s why if we can pinch one then even against the likes of mighty Chelsea we will have a chance of getting a result.”
“If Luke Varney had equalised at Wolves with that chance he had, who knows?
If we’d have been given that penalty against Manchester United it is 3-0 and game over.
“Brett stuck it in against Tottenham to make it 3-0 and it was game over.