Blackpool v Nottingham Forest, Championship playoffs semi-final first-leg, May 8, 2010
At the start of the season no-one would have predicted that Blackpool would be in the playoffs come the end of the season. The northern minnows were earmarked for the drop, with the bookies pricing the Seasiders as joint 7/4 favourites with Barnsley for relegation. But what do the bookies know.
Under the management of firebrand Ian Holloway, arguably the manager of the season in the Championship, the Tangerines eeked out a 1-all draw with Bristol City on the final day of the regular season to secure sixth spot and a shot at the Premier League, while their rivals Swansea could manage only a goalless draw with Doncaster.
Making Blackpool’s success all the more sweeter is the fact that their achievements have reached on a shoe-string budget. Being one of the most unglamourous sides in the division, virtues of self-belief and bravery have been cited as the defining qualities which have accounted for Blackpool’s magical season, while there has been barely any cash to splash in order to support their lofty Premier League dreams.
Hand in hand, Ian Holloway’s record in the transfer market this season must be lauded too. Pool have used the loan system their advantage to bring in the likes of DJ Campbell, Stephen Dobbie and Barry Bannan. And when they did open their purse they did so wisely, with free-kick specialist Charlie Adam one of the buys of the year at Â£500,000. Adams ended the domestic season with an amazing 16 goals to his name.
Adam, alongside marksmen Brett Ormerod (11 goals this season), will form the main goal-threats for Blackpool in the playoff. However doubts surrounded the fitness DJ Campbell for Saturday’s first leg against Nottingham Forest after the was forced off early in the second half last Sunday after landing awkwardly on his arm attempting an overhead kick.
Contrasting Blackpool’s amazing foray at the end of the season to sneak into the playoffs by the skin of their teeth, Nottingham Forest have proven to be one of the more consistent teams in the division all season as they finished the regular campaign in third place. Yet, Billy Davies’s side will know that they league success will count for nothing once the playoffs kick off, and moreover many Forest fans will be biting their nails at the prospect of facing their bogey side Blackpool in the two-legged semi-final.
Blackpool hold the hoodoo over Forest this season, being the only team to do the double over them in the league. Further, the sandy beach-like pitch at Bloomfield Road wonâ€™t exactly thrill Forest, who have drawn a host of plaudits this season for their fast paced, flowing style of football.
Away from the negativity though, Forest fans will be encouraged by their gaffer’s excellent record in the playoffs down the years. After leading former club Preston to successive playoff finishes, and gaining promotion to the Premier League with Derby County through the lottery back in 2007, Billy Davies has the most exemplary record of all the coaches of the four current combatants. Further, whilst at the City Ground Davies had performed minor miracles for the fallen giants Forest, turning them from a side that last season only just survived relegation, to now being the front-runner for Premier League glory.
With the third best defensive record in the Championship this season, Forest have gained the notoriety of being a team which opposition teams find hard to breakdown. That reputation has been built on a solid foundation at the back, with Wes Morgan and Kelvin Wilson joining PFA team of the year nominees Chris Gunter and goalkeeper Lee Camp to fill out a stingy and feared backline.
Forest are more than just a team with a strong rearguard though, as they also have a midfield and attack which can cause the likes of Blackpool problems. In the middle of the park Radoslaw Majewski and Chris Cohen have the guile and creativity to play at a higher level, while up-front they have a blend of experience and youthful exuberance with Robert Earnshaw and Dexter Blackstock leading the line.
The problem for Forest, however, maybe be the expectations game.
“No-one expected us to achieve what we have, so I want us to have a party in the play-offs and play some relaxed, attacking football. We can play without fear – the pressure is off and we can be ourselves,” said Ian Holloway this week.
If Blackpool can play with the freedom that saw them chalk up six wins in the last eight matches, then perhaps the incredible Tangerine story may be blessed with an incredible, and unlikely, Wembley conclusion.
101gg predicts: Blackpool 2 – Nottingham Forest 1