Going back on my statement in the piece on Blackburn‘s survival chances, I’ve decided that this series wouldn’t be complete without looking at the Seasiders themselves. So here goes…
How they will line up
Ian Holloway’s team selection is never straightforward to guess, but like at the end of last season, he may have finally hit upon his best starting XI. He has kept faith with the 10 of the same players for the last four games, only changing one of the forward positions. Matt Phillips and Sergei Kornilenko have both fulfilled this role, but it is Jason Puncheon who now appears to have made this position his own going into the final weekend. Only Puncheon and Neal Eardley did not start against Cardiff at Wembley in last season’s Championship play-off final – Brett Ormerod and the on-loan Seamus Coleman did play that day.
It’s incredible to think that these players, who were unfancied second tier players only a year or so ago, are the same players who have helped ‘Pool find a little form at the crucial moment. With a positive result all but necessary, it’s likely that Holloway will, as usual, mainly fill his bench with attacking players. Phillips, Ormerod, Kornilenko, James Beattie and Marlon Harewood are all potential options – I would anticipate Holloway will go for all five forwards, plus Craig Cathcart and Richard Kingson as his substitutes. Midfielders Elliot Grandin, Andy Reid and Ludovic Sylvestre will probably all have to settle for a view from the stands.
Matt Gilks, Stephen Crainey and David Vaughan could all be making their final appearance in a tangerine shirt, but all eyes will be on Charlie Adam who will almost inevitably be playing one last time for Blackpool. Nominated for the PFA Player of the Year award, Adam has been the talisman, his goal against Bolton hopefully signalling he is back to his best form. It’s been a trying few months for Adam since the January transfer window closed, but despite looking to advance his career, it’s clear to anyone who has followed ‘Pool closely that he does genuinely care for the club and its supporters. Could Adam say farewell with a free-kick or penalty to keep Blackpool in the Premier League?
Their Opponents – Manchester United
If Blackpool’s line-up practically picks itself tomorrow, then United’s is somewhat more tricky to predict. The Champions League final against Barcelona awaits – only six days after the game at Old Trafford – and one eye is naturally on that tie. There has been a lot of discussion in the build-up about Man United fielding a second-choice team, and what exactly constitutes a weakened team. Sir Alex Ferguson has sought to ease the fears of other teams involved in the relegation dogfight however, insisting a number of regulars will start on Sunday.
The players named were Edwin van der Sar, Patrice Evra, Anderson, Darren Fletcher, Paul Scholes and Dimitar Berbatov. Those who will play alongside them is as yet unknown but it could include the likes of Wes Brown, Jonny Evans, John O’Shea, Darron Gibson and Michael Owen. In effect, a team that still features a host of internationals and players that earn a lot more than Blackpool’s first choice XI.
United have been criticised this season for perhaps not being worthy of comparison to great teams of years gone by, but nobody can argue with their 19th title win, which they sealed with a draw at Ewood Park last season. Most formidably, they have only dropped points in one home game all season, against West Brom helped in no small part by a rare van der Sar clanger. The omens for a positive result for Blackpool do not look good.
What’s Blackpool’s Form Like?
‘Pool have had a tough 2011 with just three wins since the turn of the year against Liverpool, Spurs and most recently Bolton. The reason Blackpool are in this trouble after such a strong first half of the season is a nine-game stretch from February to May where they failed to win a single game. The Seasiders are now four games unbeaten though, drawing three and winning one.
For a newly promoted club, ‘Pool have an excellent away record, notching up five victories on the road this campaign. However, you have to go back to the end of December for their last win away from Bloomfield Road when they beat Sunderland 2-0. With only two points from the last six away matches, ‘Pool are 19th in the away form league, with a game tomorrow against the strongest home team in the division.
Up the ‘Pool verdict
With more than a little hint of bias, it’s not inconceivable to think Blackpool could get something at Old Trafford if Ferguson fields a team missing their big names, with their replacements also concentrating on the Champions League next week. Stats rarely lie however, and whatever team United field should on paper be strong enough to defeat the Seasiders. As ‘Pool have proved this season however, being the underdog does not faze them and they’ll be desperate to prove all the critics wrong. I cannot bring myself to tip a Man United win, but even containing United to a narrow win could be enough for the Seasiders.
The time for rationality is over for Blackpool fans, and like last year at Wembley, it’s time to believe our club can achieve the improbable, by no means the impossible. Up the ‘Pool!