This seasons Barclays Premiership has seen many extraordinary achievements. Sir Alex Ferguson claiming Manchester United’s 19th Premier League crown, Arsenal defying the impossible in achieving yet another trophy less season and Birmingham City defeating Arsene Wenger’s charges in a topsy-turvy Carling Cup Final to name but a few.
As incredible as each mentioned have been all will certainly, for this writer at least, pale into insignificance if Ian Holloway’s Blackpool can survive the relegation trapdoor by claiming a result at champions Manchester United this coming ‘Survival’ Sunday.
Written off by anyone who’s anyone at the beginning of the 2010/11 season, Blackpool were not expected to just get relegated. Many in fact believed the Tangerines would be unable to surpass Derby’s unwanted record of just 11 points and one win in a Premier League season. With a set of players assembled from in and below the Championship as well as some free transfers and unknown foreign imports it is easy to see how so many would have come to this conclusion. In considering Blackpool’s squad has been brought together for the miserly sum of around £2.5 million (£30 million less than the next club West Brom) what manager Ian Holloway, his players and the club have already achieved is remarkable. The Tangerines current total of 39 points would in fact have been enough to ensure survival in 9 out of the last 10 season of the Premier League.
Whilst the believers stayed in the shadows, Blackpool’s eccentric manager Holloway has always been vociferous in his support for his players and the club. Holloway has consistently provided entertainment, honesty and a bristling enthusiasm for all things football and, more importantly, all things Blackpool. Most refreshing has been the manager’s desire to attack sides, be it home or away, regardless of reputation and form. When Blackpool hosted newly crowned champions Manchester United at Bloomfield Road, the home side stormed into a 2-0 first half lead, leaving Sir Alex’s men bewildered by the ferocity of Blackpool’s attacking play. Despite eventually succumbing to United 4-2, Holloway and his men would not be deterred in their upcoming fixtures, recording convincing home wins over Liverpool and Tottenham as well as most recently beating Bolton 4-3 in an enthralling end to end contest. In adopting such an overly attacking approach, Blackpool have also conjured up some superb performances away from home (their away record is the 8th best in the league) including a stunning 2-1 win against Liverpool at Anfield.
Whilst Blackpool have been causing havoc for many opposition defences, problems have naturally stemmed from an unsupported and leaky defence. With the season reaching its conclusion, the club from the North West have struggled to remain resilient showing themselves to be fragile and nervous at the back. The lack of Premier League experience most certainly counts, especially in the pressure cooker of a relegation dogfight. The Tangerines have only kept one clean sheet since December, which, in a league boasting many of the world’s finest attacking talents and a promise to attack, attack, attack is hardly a shock.
Despite leaving themselves open in defence, Holloway is adamant in light of this weekend’s final Premiership fixture that he will not alternate from this style of play, even at Old Trafford. Holloway mused ‘We have an attack minded team, I’m not going to be changing the way we play‘ before admitting that he was confident his side could return from Manchester with a win that would almost certainly ensure Premier League survival. ”I believe we can do it, whoever they [United] put out,” said Holloway. “Maybe the main man up there has written a story that would probably beat Cinderella.”
Holloway’s enthusiasm is admirable especially in the face of adversity where a victory for Birmingham at Tottenham or Wigan at Stoke will almost certainly confirm Blackpool’s relegation, no matter what their score against the Red Devils. Whether they can is open to debate but If they do pull off the impossible and remain a Premier League team heading into 2011/2012 it will surely be one of the greatest achievements in Premier League football, and I’m sure even Sir Alex would raise a glass of red to that.