Reaching the League One play-off final after a disastrous start to the campaign: Neil Critchley hails Blackpool's remarkable turnaround ahead of Lincoln City showdown
When Blackpool were languishing just outside the bottom four after losing six of their first nine league games, they couldn’t have imagined how well their season would have turned out.
But since then, Neil Critchley’s men have been remarkably consistent, losing just six of their following 37 fixtures.
It saw the Seasiders finish the campaign on 80 points and in third place, a points tally the club hadn’t achieved since 2007, when they also finished third to secure promotion via the League One play-offs under Simon Grayson.
Pool will be aiming to repeat that feat when they take on Lincoln City in the play-off final at Wembley on Sunday.
It’s been a remarkable turnaround from the end of October onwards, where the Seasiders have collected the most points of any side in the third tier.
“It’s a fantastic effort and the players have been through so much this season,” Critchley said.
“We’ve pretty much changed the whole squad and it took us some time to develop that understanding of how we want to play. I still think we’ll get better by the way.
“With what we’ve had to endure this season as well with Covid - I think we’re one of the only teams in the division not to call a game off when we had players with Covid - we’ve had significant injuries which we haven’t made a big deal of and we’ve had a schedule like no other team in the division since January.
“For us now to be in this position is credit to how the players prepare and train every single day, this hasn’t happened by accident.”
Pool secured their place in Sunday’s final with a 6-3 aggregate win over Oxford United.
Taking a three-goal lead into Friday’s second leg, the Seasiders played out an entertaining, topsy-turvy 3-3 draw at Bloomfield Road in front of 4,000 returning Pool fans.
“It had everything, it was a really exciting, entertaining game,” Critchley added.
“I thought Oxford played a big part in that, because I thought Karl Robinson’s team were excellent. They never gave up and went right to the end and played some really good football. They’ve got good players though, so it didn’t surprise me.
“At half-time at 2-1, other than the goal, I don’t really remember them having a chance or an effort on goal. We were the most threatening team and had the better chances.
“That changed a little bit after half-time, but that was only natural because we were winning the game on aggregate and they can throw men forward, so you’d expect them to have some pressure and to be on top.
“It was the goals I was most disappointed with, to concede two wide free-kicks was very unlike us.
“How easy we let the cross in for the third goal, we didn’t defend that very well, but we scored some really good goals ourselves and we might have had one or two more at the end of the game when they were pushing men forward, but we didn’t capitalise.”
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