Blackpool in the Premier League 10 years on: Manchester United defeat was a heartbreaking end to a memorable year

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.

Saturday, 22nd May 2021, 3:00 pm

A decade ago, Blackpool’s Premier League stay ended with a 4-2 defeat at Manchester United on the final day as STEVE CANAVAN reported at the time…..

All good things come to an end.

It is just a crying shame that in Blackpool’s case, it was decided in a manner which the phrase ‘heartbreaking’ doesn’t even come close to covering.

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Blackpool players and manager Ian Holloway applaud the fans after their season ended in relegation
Blackpool players and manager Ian Holloway applaud the fans after their season ended in relegation

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With 30 minutes to go, Pool were poised to become the first team to beat Manchester United at Old Trafford this season and retain their Premier League status in the most wonderful fashion.

Half an hour later, it was relegation and tears all round.

Football is the purest form of theatre there is but, as fantastic and exhilarating as it can be, it can be oh so cruel.

Twelve months ago to the day, Pool danced on the pitch at Wembley to celebrate promotion to the Premier League, a place many thought they’d never get.

Though there is nothing other than a feeling of disappointment and emptiness today, do not forget what a wonderful year it has been, and what this terrific team has given to the town. They’ve put Blackpool on the map.

The double over Liverpool, the home win against Tottenham, the 4-0 thumping of Wigan, the goals of Charlie Adam and DJ Campbell, the electric displays of David Vaughan and Ian Evatt, the mass of tangerine which has illuminated every Premier League ground ... Pool deserve nothing but credit.

You can look back at certain games and point to moments which could have changed the course of the season – dodgy refereeing decisions and all the late goals conceded, possibly the most costly of the lot at Blackburn.

Three points there and the Seasiders would be playing Premier League football again next term, while Blackburn might have ended up in the Championship.

For all those ‘what might have been’ moments, there were many occasions when things went Pool’s way – the penalty awarded in their favour in the same Blackburn match at Ewood for starters.

The only thing to do is accept it and, if you can, reflect on what a fantastic season it has been.

You could have cut the tension with a knife before the start – well, in the away end at any rate.

The home fans weren’t bothered. United supporters were the very definition of carefree, here to celebrate a record-breaking 19th title and have a right knees-up.

For Seasiders fans, it was fingernails furiously being chewed, transistor radios to ears monitoring events elsewhere, a giddy mix of nerves and excitement.

When the game started, Blackpool spurned a quite fantastic chance to go ahead with 21 seconds on the clock.

Adam pulled the ball back from the left and Keith Southern had the easiest of tasks to smack the ball in from eight yards.

He made horrible contact though, and dragged the ball wide. He should have buried it – but it’s the first thing he’s done wrong since coming back into the side five games ago.

Matt Gilks saved well from Rafael’s dipping volley from the edge of the area, then Gary Taylor-Fletcher was a whisker away from turning home Adam’s low cross.

There was a big save from Gilks on eight minutes when Dimitar Berbatov turned Evatt in the area and had a free shot from 10 yards.

It was a temporary reprieve as United netted on 21 minutes when Berbatov flicked a pass towards Ji-Sung Park.

Evatt looked to have it covered but misjudged his challenge and Park nipped in to chip the ball past Gilks.

There was a fantastic save on the half-hour by Gilks, keeping out Berbatov’s close-range effort.

Then, on 40 minutes, bedlam in the away end.

Mike Dean made a great decision, overruling his linesman on an offside after spotting the ball had come off a United player and instead awarding the Seasiders a free-kick for a foul on Taylor-Fletcher.

It was in a perfect spot, in the semi-circle on the edge of the box.

Adam grabbed the ball. He’d probably dreamed about this moment since he was a kid, and he wasn’t about to blow it.

Up stepped the skipper and curled a beauty round a suspect wall and in.

The monitors in the press box showed the relegation zone as it stood – the Seasiders leaping above Wigan and Blackburn and out of the drop zone.

Needless to say, spirits in the away enclosure were high during the interval.

They were almost higher moments after the break when Campbell won a free-kick on the edge of the area.

Adam belted it goalwards but Edwin van der Sar made the most wonderfully nonchalant of saves.

Then came the big moment – the Tangerines had the audacity to go ahead.

Vaughan made a fine run forward and exchanged passes with Jason Puncheon before whipping a low, right-footed cross into the danger area.

Taylor-Fletcher, at the near post, let the ball do the work, applying the neatest of touches and steering the ball in off the post.

Alas, the joy was shortlived. Six minutes in front was all they were allowed, Anderson’s left-footer from Park’s cross beating Gilks all ends up.

Then, on 74 minutes, Pool’s world came crashing in and in horrible fashion.

There appeared little danger when Chris Smalling hit a poor cross into the area but Evatt had a moment that will haunt him, slicing the ball past Gilks and into the bottom corner.

He almost quickly made amends, latching on to Stephen Crainey’s cross and bursting past the last defender but was denied by van der Sar.

The game was over with eight minutes to go. Michael Owen, on for Park, scored a trademark goal, breaking clear and steering the ball past Gilks.

Almost at the same moment, news seeped through that Wigan and Birmingham had scored. The away end was momentarily silent for the first time all afternoon.

Despite knowing their Premier League dream was over, the Seasiders fans stood as one and chanted ‘Holloway’s Tangerine Army’ at the top of their voices, as they appreciate what the team has done.

It will take the fans, and the players and staff, a fair few weeks to get over this but this manager has achieved miracles before, and next season, he’ll be aiming for another.

It’s been a great season – shame it didn’t get the ending it deserved.

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