Blackpool in the Premier League 10 years on: Seasiders' stalemate as Stoke City prove awkward opponents
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, and with games running out, the Seasiders and Stoke City couldn’t be separated at Bloomfield Road as STEVE CANAVAN reported at the time…..
On such a momentous weekend – a Royal wedding, the unveiling of the Jimmy Armfield statue, the beatification of the late Pope John Paul II – a goalless draw somehow wasn’t appropriate.
Such was the excitement elsewhere, surely a 5-4 should have been the order of the day.
The lack of goals came as quite a shock for everyone, mainly because it is almost two years since the last 0-0 at Bloomfield Road.
It came in Ian Holloway’s fourth game in charge, in August 2009, against Derby County, when the new manager was still trying to implement the free-flowing football that was to become a feature of his reign.
The fact that, until Saturday, there hadn’t been another stalemate on home soil emphasises how successful the boss’s attacking tactics have been, and is a timely reminder that we are all very fortunate to have watched Blackpool over the last couple of seasons.
Given how much has happened in the last tumultuous 18 months, August 2009 seems a long while ago now, but it is interesting to note eight players who featured in the previous 0-0 started at the weekend.
Eight! That hammers home how magnificently this club has done to reach the top flight, on a budget that wouldn’t be enough to cover the cost of decorating the main foyer at other Premier League clubs.
So to the game, and as goalless draws go, this wasn’t a bad one.
There are some fans who might scoff at that, pointing out the Seasiders didn’t have a shot on target, and that a point might not be enough when it comes to the crunch. Both of which are true.
You also have to bear in mind that Pool were taking on a Stoke side who have never been as confident. They had scored eight and conceded none in their previous two matches.
They have booked a fourth season in the Premier League and have an FA Cup final against Manchester City to look forward to.
They are also devilishly difficult to play against and they very much play to their strengths.
They kill the game, have a superbly organised backline that makes it hard for opponents to create clear-cut opportunities, and aren’t scared of a challenge.
Tony Pulis’ side also have the ability to punish on the break, and the scoreline here would have been worse had Kenwyne Jones not decided to make a late bid to lift the Premier League miss of the season trophy.
In short, Stoke are dangerous, which is why I thought the Seasiders did pretty well.
Earlier in the season, the outcome of this game would have been hugely satisfying, Pool holding their own against an established top-flight team.
It is only because the club desperately needs points to stay up that a draw is faintly disappointing.
Holloway will be nothing but encouraged by the performance.
For the second time in seven days, he picked the same starting line-up and his players did themselves proud, in different ways.
Against Newcastle, they were a magnificent, vibrant attacking force, denied victory only by sheer bad luck and some questionable refereeing.
On Saturday, they were defiant, solid, committed and never once threatened to throw in the towel, as Stoke launched their trademark set pieces and long throws into the 18-yard box.
They thoroughly deserved a draw and can rightly complain that, for the umpteenth time this season, they were denied a possible penalty kick.
DJ Campbell went to ground under a robust challenge from Glenn Whelan. Many referees would have pointed to the spot, Mark Clattenburg wasn’t one of them.
Having said that, given the nature of Jones’ horrific miss, and the fact that Stoke were the more threatening side in the second half, victory would have been a trifle fortunate.
Anyway, perhaps it was written in the stars that Pool wouldn’t emerge triumphant – Stoke have won five and lost none of their last 11 league visits to Bloomfield Road, a run stretching back to the year the Beatles first toured America, Richard Burton married Elizabeth Taylor and a new TV station called BBC2 began.
Here it was a fascinating battle from beginning to end, Pool desperately trying to find a way past the solid Stoke defence in an opening 45 minutes they edged before the Potters’ sheer physical presence and fitness led to a second period where they pushed forward and looked the more dangerous.
The chance of the game came in first-half stoppage time. David Vaughan took a quick throw to Neal Eardley, the Seasiders lost possession and Jones found himself through on goal.
He did everything right, rounding Matt Gilks, taking a touch to steady himself – then achieving the impressive feat of chipping a hopeless shot wide of the gaping target.
Perhaps Ian Evatt, sliding back, put Jones off, but really there is no excuse. Dreadful miss.
Pool didn’t create a chance as good as that throughout.
They got in some promising positions but their shooting was wayward when it mattered – Eardley, Keith Southern, Gary Taylor-Fletcher and Vaughan all off target.
Not as good as usual going forward then, but the defence was terrific with Evatt and Stephen Crainey, in particular, outstanding.
Crainey was like a man possessed first half, getting forward effectively and not bad at the other end either – clearing an early Robert Huth shot off the line.
As for Evatt, he was breathtakingly good. A first-half tackle on Jones was timed to perfection, and his clearances throughout, both on the ground and in the air, were marvellous.
Who would have thought the lad signed when the club was at the wrong end of League One would go on to become a Premier League star?
It would be a crying shame if Evatt and the other stalwarts of the side were to be relegated. The football they have played this season, the way they have gone at teams, deserves better.
Failure to beat Stoke, however, means their fate hangs in the balance.
Evatt believes one more win will do it and is targeting the Bolton game.
I hope he’s right but, in truth, 38 points might not be enough to stay up – and with two of the final three games at Tottenham and Manchester United, that’s not good news.
It is now a case of hoping others slip up and that the team can indeed get maximum points against Bolton, and maybe pick up an unexpected point on their travels.
Whatever happens, Holloway’s men have done, and continue to do, themselves proud – and with a bit of luck, they might yet pull off the miracle.
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