On this day in 2012: Blackpool seal Wembley date with West Ham after squeezing past Birmingham City in Championship play-off semi-finals

On this day in 2012, Blackpool drew 2-2 with Birmingham City to reach their second Championship play-off final in three years - and this is how The Gazette reported it at the time.

By Matt Scrafton
Saturday, 9th May 2020, 12:34 pm
Updated Saturday, 9th May 2020, 12:40 pm

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Former Blackpool man's debt to Ian Holloway

Ian Holloway casually mentioned the Premier League in his first press conference, after being unveiled manager on what must now be viewed as a quite momentous day on May 21, 2009.

“The Premier League?” we cried. “What we’ve heard about this bloke is true – he is a nutter.”

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Neal Eardley leads the celebrations

How wrong we were. And now, after one remarkable promotion followed by a thrilling season in the top flight, here we are again – 90 minutes from the best division in world football.

The only downside – can’t believe I’m writing that on a day like this – was that Pool didn’t make it 11 consecutive wins in play-off matches, a run stretching back to Steve McMahon’s reign in 2001.

But, hey, we’ll let the lads off for that – this draw will do just fine.

We’ve had it quite good in recent years haven’t we?

Three promotions via the play-offs – from bottom division to top.

The club’s supporters haven’t tasted defeat in the play-offs since 1996 and a night against Bradford City that will live long in the memories of all who saw it, for all the wrong reasons.

This team are much, much better than that.

What a night it was. The atmosphere was raucous long before the start, with the Birmingham fans armed with clappers which made a noise less pleasant than a car alarm going off outside your house at four in the morning.

But after all the build up, Pool - leading 1-0 from the first leg - almost made what might have been the worst start in play-off history.

With less than 20 seconds on the clock, the Seasiders failed to clear their lines and Chris Burke’s goalbound show was blocked by Ian Evatt. Disaster averted.

Tom Ince had the first real effort for the Tangerines and it was a good chance too.

Receiving the ball at his feet from Stephen Crainey’s beautiful 50-yard crossfield pass, Ince danced between David Murphy and Andros Townsend (the fact Birmingham doubled up on him made no difference – he’s that good at the moment) and had a clear sight of goal.

But his left-footed effort was too close to Colin Doyle and the keeper saved.

Ince had another golden opportunity seven minutes in.

Again picked out by another wonderful raking pass – this time from Ian Evatt – the 20-year-old beat Murphy and cut into the right side of the penalty area, but was again denied by Doyle.

As he ran through, Ince was being grabbed by Murphy and should have gone down – it would surely have been a penalty and a sending off for Birmingham’s left-back.

Full credit to Ince for playing fair and staying up, but this was one occasion when a tumble to the ground might not have gone amiss.

The good thing, though, was that Pool had clearly settled quickly and were having some success, bossing the early stages.

Baptiste made an important last-ditch tackle on dangerman Burke as he raced into the area.

From the corner, Baptiste headed into his own six-yard box and the Seasiders had to scramble the ball clear.

Burke – 14 goals this season – missed by a yard or so with a curling left-footer from the edge of the box. Already he was looking the home side’s most menacing figure.

A big let off came on 13 minutes when Marlon King sent Murphy’s left-wing centre crashing against the bar.

After hitting post and bar at Bloomfield Road, the striker must be thoroughly sick of the woodwork. Maybe it’s karma for twice busting Evatt’s nose.

Then Gary Taylor-Fletcher headed Ince’s chip across goal, rather than at it.

He was trying to pick out Martinez but it might have been better to be more selfish – he was all alone six yards out.

Nikola Zigic had a decent effort saved by Matt Gilks, then Crainey – three goals already this season lest we forget – tried his luck from 25 yards but the ball fizzed wide.

But before the half was out, Pool got the goal they deserved – though no one realised for a long weird moment.

It came straight from a corner. Ince whipped it in, it skimmed off a Birmingham head, Baptiste’s overhead kick was blocked and Stephen Dobbie fired a slightly tame shot goalward.

Embarrassingly for Doyle, it ended up in the net, the keeper beaten where no keeper should be – at his near post.

The Pool fans at the far end couldn’t see a thing and so, rather comically given the massive importance of the moment, no one reacted. Dobbie (six goals in seven starts) had been celebrating on the far side for a good 15 seconds before the away contingent realised what had happened.

Suffice it to say, when they cottoned on, they were rather happy.

And two minutes into the second period, the night got a whole lot better.

With Pool surely expecting a Birmingham bombardment, the reverse happened.

Angel Martinez chipped a lovely ball into Matt Phillips, who turned and sent a left-foot shot past Doyle and in off the post.

The away fans, amassed behind the goal, saw that one. Cue delirium.

Bizarrely, in a match with so much riding on it, an air of calm suddenly settled over the lads in tangerine.

They knew that the home side needed to score three just to take it to penalties – not a bad position for Pool to be in.

The home side, as they had to, threw everyone forward and it almost paid off.

Birmingham got a lifeline thanks to a dubious decision by the linesman.

Burke’s pass through Blackpool’s back four was clever but Zigic was offside when he collected the pass and beat Gilks.

A good finish but how can the officials miss Zigic? The bloke is taller than Peter Crouch for goodness sake. It’s like going to London and not spotting Big Ben.

Holloway sensibly moved to tighten things up, replacing Ince – who faded a touch after his electric start – with Keith Southern.

Seconds later a golden chance for Birmingham but Guiranne N’Daw failed to convert, then fellow sub Nathan Redmond put the ball into the six yard box but Gilks made a terrific save with his legs at point blank range from King.

But suddenly the home side had their tails up and disaster on 73 minutes when Curtis Davies rose above a sea of players to head home from a corner.

Pool panicked briefly. Birmingham were in the ascendency, and the Seasiders found themselves pinned back.

But on came Nouha Dicko for Dobbie. A sensible move.

It gave the team an outlet ball – forget pretty passing football, they could hoof it and hope the speedy loan lad from Wigan got on the end of it.

It worked. Suddenly Pool looked a lot calmer and Birmingham lost their impetus.

Holloway’s men even came close to adding another goal, Dicko’s header from a corner hooked off the line by Zigic, then the frontman glanced Ferguson’s free-kick just wide.

The home crowd increasingly got frustrated, which suited the Seasiders down to the ground, and it stayed that way to the end – the full-time whistle greeted with sighs of despair from the home terraces, sighs of relief, not to mention a shed-load of cheering, from the away end.

So here we go again. Get those hotels booked and Wembley watch out. It is about to turn tangerine again and all those saying West Ham will walk it are taking a risk.

Ian Holloway and his incredible players never stick to the script. Saturday May 19 – I can’t wait.

TEAMS

Birmingham: Doyle, Ramage, Davies, Ibanez, Murphy, Burke, Spector (N'Daw), Mutch, Townsend (Redmond), King, Zigic

Blackpool: Gilks, Eardley, Baptiste, Evatt, Crainey, Ferguson, Angel, Phillips, Ince (Southern), Dobbie (Dicko), Taylor-Fletcher