Blackpool in the Premier League 10 years on: Bolton Wanderers victory sets up last day decider at Manchester United
It’s 10 years since Blackpool graced the top flight and we’re retelling the story week-by-week of that sensational season in the big time.
This weekend a decade ago, another game between the Seasiders and Bolton Wanderers ended 4-3 in Pool’s favour as STEVE CANAVAN reported at the time….
Had the spectators at Bloomfield Road been fitted with heart rate monitors this season, I daresay the vast majority would have blown up by now.
If ever a game summed up the entire year, it was this.
“We can’t concede early, the first goal is absolutely vital,” had been the mantra of the manager and the players all week.
Predictable then, that Bolton scored after six minutes.
Thankfully it didn’t prove terminal, Pool fighting back to win the type of rip-roaring, all-action encounter we have become accustomed to over the last nine months.
The fact that it finished 4-3 between these sides, on FA Cup Final day, was another delicious twist.
It was a momentous afternoon, the atmosphere electric throughout, the game itself breathtaking, and the end result wonderful.
Which is why it is a tad galling and tough to accept that Blackpool haven’t really edged any closer to safety.
This points tally of 39 would have been enough to book a second season of Premier League football in any of the last seven seasons.
Not since West Ham were relegated with a record-high total of 42 points in the 2002-03 campaign has it been this tough to beat the dreaded drop.
On the other hand, it means that even if they go down, it will be hard to feel anything other than immense pride.
What is required next week is quite simple: victory. With Wolves and Blackburn meeting, thus they can’t both win, three points is guaranteed to keep the Seasiders up.
Bit unfortunate then, that the thing in their way is the best team in England, in the final of the Champions League, and unbeaten in the league on home soil all season.
It brings back memories of last June, when the fixtures were announced. There wasn’t a Blackpool fan who didn’t look at the games and mutter ‘hope we don’t need anything on the final day’.
The fact Ian Holloway’s team have taken it to the very last day has already proved the doubters and the critics wrong.
It would be wonderful if they could complete the story by pulling off the mother, father, auntie and uncle of all victories at Old Trafford. If not, they have still done a fantastic job.
Saturday was simply terrific. It was always going to be exciting given what rested on the outcome but we didn’t realise quite how exciting.
Four goals in the first 24 minutes alone, but that was just to get us warmed up.
The winner, from Charlie Adam, was a thing of beauty. If it was the skipper’s last home game, then what a way to bow out.
His performance, though, was eclipsed by the front three – stand up and take a bow Jason Puncheon, Gary Taylor-Fletcher and DJ Campbell.
Their movement, work rate and link-up play was wonderful from the off. Puncheon scored, Taylor-Fletcher created three goals, and Campbell got a brace.
Campbell, in particular, must have been hugely satisfied to have such an impact on proceedings, given his rather public disappointment about not taking that penalty at Tottenham last week.
Any lasting ill-feeling certainly disappeared in the 45th minute when Adam’s lovely, inviting chip into the box was stabbed in on the stretch by Campbell.
The 4-3 scoreline not only evoked memories of 53 but also a much more recent event – the play-off semi-final win at Nottingham Forest 12 months ago.
It was spookily similar, the same rollercoaster ride with Pool again displaying the character and never-say-die attitude to keep coming back.
It is no coincidence that nine of the 11 who started against Bolton also started at Forest – the two who didn’t Neal Eardley and Puncheon.
Holloway probably wishes he’d gone back to his tried and trusted – Keith Southern in midfield, Alex Baptiste at centre-back – just a couple of weeks earlier.
Since he did, four games ago, the Seasiders have been miles better and unbeaten.
There is no way he will change his starting 11 for the crucial trip to Manchester United – well, not unless he’s mad – for, here, they were again superb.
That said, they did it the hard way. Bolton, in determined mood after arriving on the back of three successive defeats, going ahead six minutes in when Kevin Davies smashed a first-time volley into the top corner.
Stunned silence inside the stadium, but only for 240 seconds. Taylor-Fletcher nodded a clever header into Campbell’s path and the striker showed strength and speed to hold off Gretar Steinsson and lob Jussi Jaaskelainen.
Campbell was denied by the bar after 18 minutes but, seconds later, Puncheon smashed a left-footed curling shot into the bottom corner from the edge of the box.
Pool had turned the game around. They were in front. All they had to do was keep it like that for the next 71 minutes. They managed six.
Matt Taylor gave a good example of what a sweet left foot he has by burying a low, angled drive past Matt Gilks and in off the post.
Gilks got a hand to the ball but if he was disappointed at not keeping it out, he made up for it with a crucial stop when the dangerous Daniel Sturridge broke clear.
Davies hit the bar with either a shot or a miscued cross before the Seasiders scored a huge goal in first-half stoppage time.
Adam’s pass, Campbell’s close-range finish – Premier League goal number 13 of the season for the frontman.
Playing into a fierce wind after the break, Pool initially struggled and Sturridge dragged Bolton back into it by nodding home Chung-Yong Lee’s cross after a clever Davies pass inside Stephen Crainey.
Just when it seemed the game might be drifting away from the home team, up stepped Adam.
On the hour mark, and after some quite brilliant battling by Southern, Adam strode forward from the halfway line, exchanged passes with Taylor-Fletcher and let fly with a left-foot shot that would have landed in Wrea Green had the net not been there.
The last 28 minutes were nervy and tense but, in truth, the Seasiders held out with relative ease.
Celebrations at the end, but slightly muted.
Modern technology means everyone knows what’s going on elsewhere these days, so the bad news about Wolves and Blackburn had seeped through.
Whatever happens, though, it’s been an enthralling, magical season. Can Pool give it the ending it deserves? We’re about to find out.
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