Blackpool's Championship memories: A Happy New Year with victory over Middlesbrough

With Blackpool back in the Championship, we’re recalling the Seasiders’ previous stint in the second tier from 2011-15.

Friday, 22nd October 2021, 3:00 pm

This week, we’re at the start of January 2012 when, after losing 3-0 at Birmingham City, they beat Middlesbrough by the same margin as watched by STEVE CANAVAN...

There are three kinds of people. Those who can count and those who cannot.

A silly start to 2012, courtesy of a joke in my Christmas cracker, but, hey, a little frivolity can be permitted after a 3-0 win.

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Lomana LuaLua finds the net against Middlesbrough

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What a win it was. Start as you mean to go on, they say, and if that’s the case, Pool are in for a belter of a year.

Rarely can Ian Holloway’s men have played as well as they did in the second half of this game, so irresistible that Middlesbrough couldn’t wait to leave town.

It was all a little different from 48 hours earlier, when Pool’s form temporarily went AWOL on an abysmal afternoon in Birmingham.

That rare dodgy display resulted in a rather miserable end to 2011, not just because of the result, but the red cards for Barry Ferguson and the boss.

Holloway was seething after that game, wandering around kicking the walls. His mood, suffice to say, was a damn sight brighter yesterday.

Credit to the boss, for he deserves rich praise.

His team selection was nothing if not brave, making four changes, including bringing in Spanish midfielder Angel Martinez for only his second league start of the season.

It worked a treat. Martinez looks so comfortable it makes one wonder why he hasn’t played more.

He amply filled the shoes of the suspended Ferguson, sitting deep and offering his back four vital protection.

The back four were superb. Craig Cathcart and Ian Evatt, ably abetted by Alex Baptiste and skipper Stephen Crainey, barely put a foot wrong.

That hadn’t been the case at Birmingham, so maybe Danny Wilson’s arrival from Liverpool has had an impact without the lad even playing. Cathcart and Evatt were fully focused from the off, and it made a big difference.

Tom Ince and Matt Phillips added pace and no little skill to the front three, with Lomana LuaLua holding it all together like a safety pin in a nappy.

Wait, there’s more. We’ve not even mentioned Ludovic Sylvestre or Chris Basham yet.

The former has been excellent for the last two months, finally making his mark on the side and now virtually undroppable.

Basham wants to get to that point. Signed at the same time as Sylvestre, he has also yet to make himself a fully paid-up member of the first team.

A few more performances like this and he has every chance of doing so.

He began the match running like Paula Radcliffe, and ended it like Usain Bolt. The lad has more energy than you can shake a stick at.

It was all too much for a Middlesbrough team that had arrived in town in high spirits – up to second in the Championship, just a couple of points behind Southampton.

Tony Mowbray’s men weren’t feeling quite so chipper by the end, as they were taught a footballing lesson, especially in the second half, when Holloway told Phillips and Ince to hug the flanks and exploit the space left by Boro’s rather risky decision to play with wing-backs.

In the first half, though, it was a close contest, with the windy conditions and Middlesbrough’s constant willingness to go forward making it a bit of a free-for-all.

Pool were up for it, putting more crosses into the box in the opening five minutes than they did in the entire 90 at Birmingham.

They should have scored on 14 minutes, when LuaLua took advantage of Tony McMahon’s slip.

He could have gone for goal with just a defender to beat, but slipped the ball to Ince.

The pass was just a fraction overhit, forcing Ince to lunge at it with his weaker right foot.

Nevertheless, he struck it well, but Jason Steele saved.

Ince had Pool’s next two chances too, displaying that uncanny ability to keep hold of the ball in the tightest of situations before dragging a shot wide, then firing a screamer over from the edge of the box.

Middlesbrough had their moments too though, and Scott McDonald had a golden opportunity on 20 minutes – but, sent clear, excellent goalkeeping from Mark Howard, and strong defending by Cathcart, forced him wide of the target.

The game flowed beautifully, mainly thanks to referee Scott Mathieson, whose New Year resolution appeared to be ‘I shall not use my whistle’.

Great for the game as a spectacle, though a little infuriating for the managers.

Holloway, sat in the dugout with a towel on his knee, kept on springing out of his seat to express his frustration at the lack of free-kicks.

Each time he did, the towel went flying, almost taking out the eye of an unsuspecting fan in the West Stand at one point.

Back on the pitch, Pool held the upper hand and created some good chances.

LuaLua had a shot deflected inches wide, then Phillips’ shot was spilled by Luke Steele but, rather annoyingly, the rebound eluded Baptiste.

No doubt about it at half-time though – the common consensus in the stands was that it had been a cracking game of football.

It continued to be, especially from a Pool perspective.

After a big let-off when Barry Robson’s angled shot hit the post, Phillips went on a galloping run, cut inside and lashed a fantastic right-footed shot into the bottom corner.

A lad who’s been the real deal for a long while now is Baptiste, and the full-back created the Seasiders’ vital second goal, bursting forward and hitting a shot that Steele could only parry, allowing an alert LuaLua to poke in the rebound.

Pool were rampant now and a third goal inevitably arrived.

Brilliant work again by Phillips, beating a man inside the area and drilling in a low cross of the type that’s a nightmare to defend.

Too tricky for Seb Hines, who, 119 seconds after coming on, put through his own net.

It was easy peasy after that, Pool playing out time in a thoroughly professional and disciplined manner.

Six points out of nine from three festive fixtures will do nicely.

Now a day out in Fleetwood – for a lucky few at any rate – before the league programme starts again at Ipswich.

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