Blackpool in the Premier League 10 years on: Seasiders' boss plays down significance of Blackburn Rovers trip
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.
A decade ago this weekend, the Seasiders were without a game so, as STEVE CANAVAN reported at the time, all thoughts turned to their next fixture against Blackburn Rovers….
Ian Holloway has warned Pool fans not to go overboard about the importance of Saturday’s derby at Blackburn.
With the teams locked on 32 points, just one above the Premier League relegation zone, the fixture is already being talked up and some are deeming it a must-win for both clubs.
Holloway is having none of that.
Back on the training ground with the players after a weekend break in Scotland to celebrate his 48th birthday, Holloway insists safety will still be well within his team’s grasp if they lose at Ewood Park.
The manager said: “I think the (idea of) so-called crucial, bigger games is rubbish. I think it is nonsense. It is a fan thing.
“If I went into my dressing room before the Blackburn match and said to my lads, ‘We’ve got to win this. It is the most important game of the season and we have to do it’, then how would we be able to play? They would be a bag of nerves. You can’t think of the result.
“Last season we didn’t talk up any of the games in our run-in. We knew they were all massive and we had virtually no failure option if we wanted to get to the play-offs and promoted.
“It is totally different this time. I think we can lose seven of our last nine, win the other two and possibly stay up.
“So if Blackburn beat us, fair enough it wouldn’t be the best but we would still be living and fighting and kicking.
“By the same token, does beating Blackburn and going three points above them guarantee us staying up? No.
“It is great for the fans to think and say what they want, but we have nine cup finals left to play. Saturday is one of those but I don’t even want to think about what the score might be.
“I’ve got to think of who we are playing, how they play, what they can do, how we can score against them and who I can pick to win, then try to get them as well practiced as possible.”
It is ironic the man who made the most appearances in Pool’s promotion season has been something of a bit-part player this year.
Keith Southern started 43 of 46 league games in the Championship, plus the three play-off matches.
He was a player of the year contender, one of the three amigos in midfield alongside Charlie Adam and David Vaughan.
This season, though, it’s not gone according to plan, and most Blackpool fans will have great sympathy with him.
Southern has been a stalwart for the club since his arrival in 2002 and has improved every season he’s been at Bloomfield Road.
His role in promotion from League One and the Championship should not be under-estimated.
Part of the reason why Adam scored 19 goals last year was because he had Southern behind him, as well as Vaughan, to make tackles and win possession.
They did the simple things incredibly well, then gave the ball to Adam, who did the rest.
Southern was more emotional than most after Blackpool, the struggling League One club he had joined so long ago, won at Wembley in May to make it into the Premier League.
He was bursting with pride and couldn’t wait to represent the club in the top flight.
Then, in a pre-season friendly at Bristol City, two weeks before the start of the Seasiders most eagerly-awaited campaign in 40 years, Southern suffered a knee injury.
It meant he missed the first two months.
While he was sidelined, new signing Elliot Grandin stepped in, impressed, and – unfortunately for Southern – nailed down the third midfield place alongside Adam and Vaughan.
Southern, who regained fitness at the start of October, has had to be very patient since. He has started just four league games.
Lesser men might have kicked up a fuss, but Southern, as always, has been uncomplaining and got on with things.
Maybe his good attitude has paid dividends, for the midfielder has started the last two games.
Whether he’ll keep his place against Blackburn given that Adam is available again after a two-match ban remains to be seen.
He has given himself a chance by having an excellent game against Chelsea last time out, earning praise from his manager.
“I thought last Monday Keith showed me that he wanted to be in my team again, ” said Holloway.
“That was more like the Keith I know – getting in and around people and in their faces.
“He was brilliant for me last season, and he has been exceptionally unlucky this time around.
“He is a brilliant fella and I wouldn’t swap him for the world.
“It is the likes of him and Brett (Ormerod) that epitomise everything good about Blackpool FC.”
As for Southern, he was just happy to get a chance from the start.
“I’ve spent most of the season coming off the bench and shoring things up when we’ve been battening down the hatches against sides like Liverpool and Tottenham, ” he said.
“It is very hard when you are doing that, because the tempo is already so high. I’ve done well in spells but I needed starts to get me back up to speed.
“I’ve started the last couple now and I felt that against Chelsea, I was back up to speed for the first time and back to how I can play again.
“I felt a part of it. I was breaking things up and I felt as fit as a fiddle as well, which is what I’ve needed.”
Southern would love to make it three games in a row at Blackburn on Saturday, and if he does, a spicy Lancashire derby will be the perfect type of game for a man who never shirks a challenge.
Even if he’s not on from the start, you can rest assured this nicest of lads will be cheering on his team-mates from the sidelines.
He remains confident Pool can beat the drop and stay in the Premier League.
“We’ve got nine massive games and we don’t want this to stop now, ” he added. “We’ve got a taste for Premier League football and we want more of the same.
“I’m more than confident that this set of lads has what it takes to stay up and if we produce that sort of performance again for the rest of the season then we will be fine.”
It would somehow be fitting if Southern, who loves Blackpool from top to bottom, were to play a key role in the Seasiders’ survival.
Whether he gets that chance though, remains to be seen.
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