Blackpool's Championship memories: Seasiders 90 minutes from Wembley after Birmingham City victory

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

Friday, 7th January 2022, 3:00 pm

This week, it’s May 2012 when they beat Birmingham City 1-0 in the first leg of their play-off semi-final as reported by STEVE CANAVAN…

Birmingham is the home of the UK’s longest established science fiction group.

Every month since 1971, a group of science fiction fans have been meeting to discuss all the latest goings on in the SF (as they call it) world.

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Tom Ince celebrates his deflected goal

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Indeed, those who fancy popping along to next Friday’s meeting can hear a talk by author Stephen Hunt, whose novels feature a far-future earth where the laws of physics have rendered electricity unreliable, and society has rebuilt the world with steam, clockwork, genetic engineering and nano-mechanical systems.

As for science fiction, there is more chance of a spaceship landing in Blackpool tonight and a group of small green aliens emerging, popping into Sanuk for an hour, then flying back to Planet Zog than there is of Ian Holloway thinking this tie is done and dusted.

Pool may hold a nice advantage but the contest remains on a knife-edge, and there is still a hell of a lot of work to do if the boys in tangerine are to progress to Wembley.

In truth, though, it is probably a slight opportunity missed. While the first half was pretty even in terms of chances created, Pool, in general, bossed the second period.

Chris Hughton’s half-time team-talk was clearly along the lines of ‘actually 1-0 will be pretty good lads – don’t show too much ambition second half, keep it tight, and we’ll back ourselves to turn it around at home’.

The end result is that it all hinges on what happens during what are going to be 90 extremely tense minutes in the Midlands on Wednesday.

As expected, Holloway went with the same 11 which had beaten Burnley in such emphatic style in the final home game of the regular season.

Pool made a lively start, tearing into their opponents and trying to make the most of home advantage.

Tom Ince had the ball in the net with just five minutes gone, but the ‘goal’ was ruled offside, not for the only time in the evening.

Fair play to Birmingham, in the first period they were more positive than many expected and as a result it was an open contest.

Curtis Davies should have scored with a back-post header, but somehow put it wide.

Then Blues keeper Colin Doyle injured his shoulder saving an Ian Evatt header that was going wide.

At first he could barely move his arm and it looked as if his night might have to end prematurely.

Matt Phillips tested him five minutes later with a low shot but the keeper, sore shoulder or not, smothered it.

Marlon King, the big, burly striker leading the line for the away team, sent an acrobatic bicycle kick wide, then Angel Martinez, on a rare foray forward, smashed a spectacular volley narrowly over.

It was non-stop stuff, though Matt Gilks found time to audition for the England rugby union team, hoofing a ball Jonny Wilkinson-style over the roof of the West Stand.

He’s the first person to clear that towering stand so well done to him – a hell of an effort, though probably a costly windscreen repair bill for the unfortunate owner of whichever vehicle the ball landed on in the car park.

Stephen Dobbie – who started like a house on fire before fading after the break – forced Doyle to fumble a shot which moved in the air around the post, then Barry Ferguson almost scored against his old employers with a well-struck effort from distance.

Birmingham had just as much of the play in an even first period, and would have gone ahead had King struck the back of the net instead of the bar after being neatly teed up by the visitors’ best player, lively right-winger Chris Burke.

Pool got a little frustrated towards the end of the half, so wingers Ince and Matt Phillips switched flanks in an effort to make something happen. It did, a goal.

It came at the perfect moment, 60 seconds before the break. It was lucky, no doubt about that.

Ince’s shot was going wide until it hit Davies and deflected in but Ince has a remarkable capacity to make things happen and as the lad himself noted afterwards, when you shoot, anything can happen.

He deserved to get what turned out to be the winner for he was the best player on the pitch.

Whether Pool go up or not, he will be a target for others in the summer – thank goodness he’s under contract for another couple of years.

Because of Birmingham’s slightly negative second-half approach, it was largely all Pool from the interval onwards.

They dominated possession and tested their opponents whenever they could manoeuvre the ball around a well-organised Blues defence and midfield.

Gary Taylor-Fletcher was denied a goal on the hour. Teed up by a brilliant Ince run and pass, the striker’s close-range shot was wonderfully blocked by Peter Ramage.

Then a golden opportunity for Dobbie, benefiting from more Ince magic, but lifting the ball over the bar when you’d have put your mortgage, not to mention your next door neighbour’s as well, on him breaking the net.

Ferguson had a chance to score nicked away from him after good work from Taylor-Fletcher and – who else – Ince.

Nouha Dicko and Kevin Phillips entered the fray, and the latter thought he’d added a second, heading in Neal Eardley’s peach of a right-wing cross only to be flagged offside.

It was the correct call – the officials were excellent all night. Shame for Super Kev – what he wouldn’t have given for a goal against the club he left last summer after two years of pretty much sitting on the bench.

A dust-up between Evatt and King overshadowed the closing stage. It wasn’t their first spat of the season.

Evatt was laid out by a stray King elbow at St Andrew’s on New Year’s Eve, so when they clashed again here he didn’t take too kindly to it.

Ref Mark Halsey had to step in and tell the pair to cool it. No wonder Evatt was upset though – he is playing with a broken conk at the moment, so the last thing he wanted was another whack to the face. He was covered in blood as he walked down the tunnel at the end.

Just as the game seemed set to end 1-0, Birmingham had a golden chance to level.

King found himself in bags of space inside the penalty area, but his shot hit the post. He should have scored. Sigh of relief all round.

Advantage Pool then, but there’s a long way to go and if you’ve any fingernails right now, I guarantee they won’t be there by the end of Wednesday night.

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