Blackpool's Championship memories: Burnley blitz seals Seasiders' play-off position

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

Friday, 31st December 2021, 3:00 pm

This week, it’s April 2012 when they booked a play-off place with a 4-0 defeat of Burnley at Bloomfield Road as witnessed by STEVE CANAVAN…

Different cultures celebrate very different things.

For instance, the authorities in El Salvador are cock-a-hoop after their first murder-free day in almost three years.

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You read that correctly. In a country plagued by violent drug gangs, no murders were reported on Saturday for the first time since June, 2009.

I suggest you cross El Salvador off your list of possible places to emigrate. Sounds like nipping to the shop for milk requires a bulletproof vest and a lot of luck.

Thankfully, in these more stable parts, we celebrate other things – like a particularly good episode of Corrie, a half-price offer on a nine-roll pack of Andrex, or having a football club that has suddenly become blinking superb.

OK, so suddenly isn’t quite the right word. The revolution at Bloomfield Road began five years ago, when Simon Grayson started to transform a place in the doldrums for nigh on three lousy decades.

Ian Holloway picked up the baton three seasons ago, and I think it’s fair to say he’s done a reasonable job: promotion, year in the Premier League, now in the play-offs again.

It is, when you stand back and think about it, quite astounding.

Now, not only have they already been to the promised land, they might get back there again.

It is time to own up here: I, for one, am astonished.

Given all the doom and gloom surrounding the club last summer, I thought a top-10 finish this season would be a healthy accomplishment.

To be where Pool are – fourth-top – is fantastic and a credit to the job the manager, his backroom staff and the players have done.

It hasn’t always been straightforward. If the season was a car journey, there have been one or two wrong turns and the odd head-on collision.

What Holloway and this crop of Blackpool players are so good at is taking the hits and bouncing back, and they have done it again in spades.

Six games ago, the season could have faded into oblivion.

Three away defeats – Derby, Peterborough and Reading – and Pool were struggling.

After Reading, where the Seasiders hit upon the novel tactic of failing to defend crosses into the box, Holloway’s men slipped to eighth.

They went back to basics that week and, ever since, have been terrific. For the umpteenth time, they proved their character and an uncanny ability to respond to criticism and roar back stronger.

They are now in the play-offs and heading into them on the back of a six-game unbeaten run which includes five clean sheets and four victories.

Another positive result at Millwall and Pool will be bursting at the seams with confidence at the exact juncture it is most required.

Against Burnley, they did, at times, purr.

Not perhaps in the first half, when the Clarets – looking to equal an all-time club record of 11 away victories in a season – played plenty of good football and will feel aggrieved to be a goal behind at the break.

In the second period, after a brave and correct decision by a linesman saw the Seasiders extend their advantage – Gary Taylor-Fletcher’s header definitely crossing the line – the team began to play some superb stuff.

It bordered on downright cocky at times and, by the end, every single spectator in Bloomfield Road saluting the players on their lap of honour must have felt a tinge of excitement about what might happen over the next month.

The truth is that people are right to have high hopes, for there is a beautiful balance to the starting 11 at the moment.

Tom Ince and Matt Phillips are capable of giving any defence sleepless nights, and their pace, skill and youthful fearlessness is crucial to Pool’s play-off chances.

Stephen Dobbie is exceptional and strikes a football with the same ferocity as Vitali Klitschko throwing an uppercut.

Nouha Dicko suddenly looks electric, and what an option to have on the bench. Ditto Kevin Phillips.

Angel Martinez offers the defence some much-needed protection, while the back four itself has rarely performed better.

Stephen Crainey, obviously determined to make it impossible for Holloway to drop him again, was simply outstanding on Saturday, while Ian Evatt and Alex Baptiste look like the perfect central defensive pair.

With Matt Gilks behind them, capable of coming to the rescue with marvellous saves if needs be, it is no wonder the Tangerines’ dressing room is quietly confident of a return to the Premier League.

Holloway made one change to the team which beat Leeds, replacing Lomana LuaLua with the fit-again Dobbie.

After a first-minute stonewall penalty appeal had been mysteriously turned down, it was that man Dobbie who got the ball rolling, striking a free-kick into the bottom corner from all of 25 yards.

For the remainder of the half, though, the Seasiders appeared to get a little nervous and sat too deep.

Perhaps the knowledge that a win was enough to make the play-offs led them to err on the side of caution.

If that was the case, Holloway – who had witnessed way too many crosses come into his penalty area, and Gilks make terrific stops from Charlie Austin and Kieran Trippier – put things right at half-time.

He told his team to start attacking again, and they didn’t let him down.

It was 2-0 on 49 minutes, when Crainey burst down the left and delivered a cross to the back post, which Taylor-Fletcher looped over keeper Lee Grant and over the line, despite Michael Duff’s best attempts to clear.

That second goal, and the breathing space it gave, allowed Pool to relax and play their best stuff, and they truly sauntered to victory.

On 62 minutes, and after some lovely passing involving Ince and Matt Phillips, Dobbie’s clever ball put Crainey in, and the left-back’s chip with the outside of his foot somehow slipped through Grant’s grasp and into the net.

It was awful goalkeeping, but Crainey won’t care. No wonder he ran the length of the pitch to celebrate – that’s his third goal of the season: in 12 years as a pro, his previous best was one!

Substitute Dicko rounded off the rout towards the end, showing tremendous pace to latch on to Ince’s pass and slide the ball beneath Grant.

The fans heeded the frantic PA announcements for them to stay off the pitch, and the players and manager – plus more babies and small children than you’d find in your average nursery – came back out at the end to soak up the applause of the fans.

They deserve the acclaim but the job isn’t done yet. Stage one of this year’s Mission: Impossible might be complete, but there’s another to come.

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