Play-Off Retrospective – 2001

With Blackpool set to embark on yet another play-off campaign – the club’s seventh in the last 21 years – it seems fitting to re-visit past adventures in the so-called end of season lottery. The first retrospective will focus on the 2000/2001 season when Blackpool won promotion from League Two after an eventful season.

The Season in Brief

After taking over in January 2000, Steve McMahon was unable to arrest the slide of a Blackpool side struggling under previous manager Nigel Worthington with the Seasiders relegated at Boundary Park in the penultimate game of the 1999/2000 season, courtesy of a heartbreaking injury time equaliser from Oldham’s Ryan Sugden – a name forever etched in the memory of those who were present that day. McMahon’s remit was to ensure ‘Pool bounced back from the basement division at the first time of asking.

An opening day 3-1 win over Hull City suggested that Blackpool would achieve just that, with goals from the newly-signed Paul Simpson and Brett Ormerod, who had missed the majority of the previous season because of a broken leg sustained early in the campaign away at Wycombe. However by mid-October the Seasiders had only won three league games, while drawing four and losing six – at one point finding themselves in 23rd position. That November also included the infamous 7-0 defeat at Barnet – a genuine low point of the club’s existence.

The second half of the season was much more positive as ‘Pool went on the hunt for a play-off place, although at times it did look like a top seven finish could elude McMahon’s side. A last minute winner against Plymouth in early March would prove to be crucial, with Richard Walker’s header from the edge of the box still fondly remembered today, and with Blackpool suffering a poor run of results at the end of March, a late winner from Phil Clarkson at The Shay on April 10th rescued another important three points.

Ultimately it was victories in the final three league games which secured the final play-off place for the Seasiders, albeit not without some drama along the way. ‘Pool had to visit Darlington on the final day needing to better Rochdale’s result away at Plymouth. Blackpool did their bit running out 3-1 winners at Feethams, but were forced to wait for a few minutes after the final whistle to learn their fate. In the days before mobile internet it was an anxious wait on the sun-drenched terrace behind the goal before confirmation finally came from those with portable radios first, and secondly the Darlington tannoy, that Rochdale had been held to a goalless draw in Devon. The celebrations could commence – Blackpool were headed for the play-offs.

The Play-Off Semi-Finals

Blackpool 2-0 Hartlepool United

It was ‘Pool versus Pools in the semi-finals, with Hartlepool having done the double over the Seasiders during the regular season. At this point Blackpool were playing in front of just two stands at Bloomfield Road, with both the West stand and Spion Kop demolished to make way for construction work on the current North and West stands. However, this resulted in a heavy concentration of support in the remaining home areas of the ground, lending a raucous atmosphere to the proceedings.

Backed by a vociferous crowd, two Brett Ormerod goals in the second half gave Blackpool a strong lead to take to the North East. Ormerod celebrated his goals with an acrobatic flip – a feat he’d be hard pressed to replicate these days – and said of the day “it’s unbelievable – one of my best days in football”. A match report from The Guardian highlighted Blackpool as being overwhelmingly the better side, with a very honest Pools manager Chris Turner admitting “the score line wasn’t a true reflection of the game. Blackpool played exceptionally well and could have scored more.”

Hartlepool United 1-3 Blackpool

The return leg at Victoria Park was so popular amongst Blackpool fans that a beam-back was laid on at Bloomfield Road. ‘Pool were given fewer than 1,000 tickets and with no live television coverage of the match – the game was played on the same night as Liverpool overcame Alaves in the UEFA Cup – it was the only way many supporters could follow events.

Nerves were settled fairly early on though, as Brett Ormerod converted a Gary Parkinson cross midway through the first half to give Blackpool a commanding aggregate lead. Hartlepool did threaten a comeback shortly after half-time by equalising on the night, but soon after that goal Ormerod turned provider for John Hills before Ormerod scored his fourth goal of the play-off campaign to cap off a resounding 5-1 aggregate win.

The Play-Off Final

Blackpool 4-2 Leyton Orient

How They Lined Up

Due to limitations of these graphics, Blackpool are shown in white rather than the tangerine in which they played on the day.

Steve McMahon made two changes from the second leg of the play-off semi-final – Paul Simpson replaced the sick Tommy Jaszczun and with Danny Shittu’s loan deal expiring before the final, he made way for club captain Ian Hughes. Both teams shaped up in fairly standard 4-4-2 formations, with Orient missing Steve Watts who was sent off in their 2-1 aggregate win over Hull City. Chris Tate came in to partner 18 year old Jabo Ibhere. Andy Harris replaced Steve Castle in midfield.

It was Orient who had the better of the two league meetings that season, drawing 2-2 at Bloomfield Road early in the season, and winning 1-0 at Brisbane Road in the return fixture. Orient’s main threat was thought to be down their left flank, with left back Matt Lockwood expected to go onto bigger and better things and ahead of him veteran Scott Houghton who was at his 10th club of his career.

First Half

In surely one of the most calamitous starts of any final ever, Blackpool found themselves behind after only 27 seconds. Phil Barnes slipped when receiving a routine back pass from Brian Reid which allowed Tate to seize the loose ball, round Barnes, and slot the ball into an empty goal. ‘Pool did settle down fairly quickly following this and possibly even had slightly the better of the opening 25 minutes, with the Blackpool midfield having the edge over their opponents. However, Orient then found their footing in the game, with Houghton beginning to assert his influence.

In the 34th minute, out of nothing and against the run of play, John Murphy got on to the end of a Gary Parkinson long ball, shrugged off the attention of Dean Smith, but Orient keeper Ashley Bayes was equal to Murphy’s rather tame effort, pushing it wide of the post. However, from the resulting corner Ian Hughes found himself unmarked to nod in an equaliser. Yet minutes later, Orient restored their advantage, just as the Seasiders’ support began to chant “You’re not singing any more”. After two successive Orient corners, ‘Pool could only half clear – the ball dropped to Lockwood who teed it up nicely for Houghton, with the veteran firing through Phil Clarkson’s legs and into the bottom left corner of the goal.

It looked as if Orient would go into half-time ahead, but on the verge of the break ‘Pool equalised again, once more from a corner. Simpson played a short one-two from the corner with Parkinson, before whipping in a teasing cross from a wider angle. Reid arrived at the back post and managed to make enough contact to divert the ball past Bayes in the Orient goal, which ensured the scores were level with 45 minutes played.

Second Half

In contrast to the opening half, the second period took some time to get going, although Blackpool had a major scare in the 49th minute when Ibhere broke through and saw his shot come back off the upright when it looked certain Orient would regain the lead for a third time. This seemed to spark Blackpool into action as they then stepped up a gear and began to dictate the flow of the game. Richie Wellens, who had a quiet first half, began to find more time on the ball. Simpson too grew more influential with all his years of experience beginning to shine through.

It was fitting therefore that it was the two aforementioned players who combined to put ‘Pool ahead for the first time in the match. In the 77th minute Houghton dallied on the ball – Ormerod nipped in and gave it to Wellens who carried the ball forward into the Orient half. Ormerod continued his run to drag defenders one way, while Simpson advanced down the left unnoticed. Wellens played in a perfectly weighted pass and Simpson composed himself well to easily convert from 10 yards out.

The final 10 minutes or so went by relatively danger-free for ‘Pool, with Orient looking deflated and defeated. With only a few minutes of normal time remaining, Blackpool put the result to bed with possibly the goal of the game. Simpson and Hills combined down the left with the latter providing an excellent cross for Ormerod to complete the job with his 26th goal of the season.

The Aftermath

Following this promotion Blackpool consolidated themselves in League One, with several mid-table finishes under Steve McMahon to follow, before his departure in acrimonious circumstances. Brett Ormerod would continue his scoring form and secure a £1.75m transfer to Southampton after racking up 20 goals in just 27 games in the first half of the 2001-02 season. In contrast, Paul Simpson would struggle to maintain the same level of performance upon promotion, his advancing years getting the better of him, although he is fondly remembered for the vintage season of 2000-01.

For some players in the squad, it was the peak of their career. Others, such as John Hills and Richie Wellens would enjoy relative success elsewhere, while Danny Coid and John Murphy, particularly the former, would find the remainder of their time at Bloomfield Road ravaged by injury. It was an important day in the current context of the club though, and ensured the Seasiders only had a one season stay in the bottom tier. The trajectory since then has been largely upward. A couple of weeks from now, today’s squad will aim to continue that trend.