The Holloway Years: The Seasons

Ian Holloway oversaw a hugely successful period during his time as manager, leading Blackpool to their highest league position in a generation. Each season had its ups and downs and was never less than entertaining. A series of posts analysing Holloway’s tenure begins with a summary of each of his seasons in charge:

2009/10 season – promotion from the Championship

Written off as favourites for relegation, few could have predicted the season that would unfold. I got my first glimpse of the new-look Blackpool on the pre-season tour of Devon where the club participated in a mini-tournament. Many players have spoken since about how it took time for Holloway’s ideas to sink in, and this much was evident early on. Eavesdropping on conversations between manager and substitutes before an embarrassing defeat (on penalties) to Rushden & Diamonds, it was easy to tell they had yet to buy into his ideas, with Rob Edwards complaining that he wasn’t fond of Devon and would have gladly dipped into his own pocket to “go somewhere hot like Spain”.

Holloway began that season with largely the squad he inherited – convincing Valeri Belokon to stump up the funds for Charlie Adam the most notable transfer activity. Adam of course had enjoyed a successful loan spell under Tony Parkes from January of 2009 and as it proved, was hardly a gamble. The only other major arrivals were Neal Eardley and Jason Euell, but Holloway achieved the seemingly-impossible by instilling belief and a new playing style on a group of players viewed by many others as misfits.

In their new 4-3-3 formation, Blackpool started steadily, drawing their first four league matches of the campaign. However, by Christmas the Seasiders had got themselves to the fringes of the play-offs with some memorable victories over Newcastle, Sheffield United and Middlesbrough. The January transfer window saw some crucial loan signings arrive at Bloomfield Road – DJ Campbell, Stephen Dobbie and Barry Bannan would all go on to play influential roles in the eventual promotion.

A rocky spell in February and early March threatened to derail the play-off bid, but another loan arrival – Seamus Coleman – gave Blackpool another lift as the side ended the season in fine form, losing only one of the last nine regular season fixtures. After a thrilling second leg play-off victory away at Nottingham Forest, Holloway led his charges to Wembley one step away from the Premier League. The story of that sweltering day has been told countless times, and it doesn’t need repeating what a tremendous performance the Seasiders produced to come from behind twice to seal a 3-2 victory and promotion to the top flight.

2010/11 season – relegation from the Premier League

Blackpool once again headed for Devon in pre-season and the mood was nowhere near as euphoric as it should have been. Rather than looking ahead to a debut Premier League season with frenzied excitement, the talk was of failed transfer after failed transfer. Indeed, Holloway even had to resort to giving Francis Jeffers a trial on that pre-season tour, such was the lack of success in the transfer market. Signings were eventually made just days before the season opener – the 4-0 away win at Wigan an unlikely but welcome surprise.Blackpool did suffer some significant defeats in the first half of the campaign – 6-0 at Arsenal and 4-0 at Chelsea spring to mind – but for the most part Holloway’s side more than held their own and caused more than a few upsets of their own including a memorable 2-1 victory at Anfield. Yet despite occupying a top half spot with 25 points at the turn of the year, many will point to a Wednesday night in November as a major error or judgement from Holloway.

Facing a stuttering Aston Villa side, Holloway opted to make 10 changes and seemingly rest his first-choice side ahead of the weekend’s fixture away at West Ham. It almost worked, with Blackpool narrowly losing 3-2 in the last minute. However, it provided a ‘what if?’ moment, with some fans feeling victory was there for the taking had Holloway fielded his strongest side. To add insult to injury, the Premier League then issued the club with a frankly ridiculous £25,000 fine.

January was really the key month of the entire season, and it was here where everything fell apart in hindsight. While Blackpool managed to hang on to Adam, Holloway was unable to strengthen his squad with all of his transfer window signings, bar Jason Puncheon, failing miserably. The club had the chance to push on and consolidate with just a few key signings, but the gamble of assuming the club were practically already safe did not pay off. Another key turning point came in the home match with Manchester United when Luke Varney was denied a seemingly stonewall penalty with Blackpool leading 2-0. United pulled one of their trademark comebacks out of the bag and from that point on Blackpool looked like a club on the slide.

Four consecutive home games in April failed to produce a single victory – the home defeat to Wigan can possibly be highlighted as the day relegation was inevitable. A last minute equaliser for Tottenham was a killer goal in the 3rd to last match, and although Blackpool took it to the final day with a thrilling 4-3 home win over Bolton, a trip to Old Trafford was not the ideal final fixture. A shock was almost on the cards when ‘Pool briefly led 2-1, but the Seasiders’ fate was sealed when United once more came from behind to beat Holloway’s side. Relegation was cruel, but given the budget even taking it to the final day was miraculous.

2011/12 season – play-off final defeat

DJ Campbell, Charlie Adam and David Vaughan all left Bloomfield Road in the aftermath of relegation, leaving Holloway with some big names to replace. Barry Ferguson and Kevin Phillips were asked to fill the void and both had successful seasons despite their advancing years. Elsewhere there was a large number of arrivals, but few of those would make a lasting impression on the first team. Victories in the first two league games suggested an immediate return to the top flight might be on the cards, but by the end of October the team was struggling.A turgid derby performance at Turf Moor ended up being the turning point, and from that trough ‘Pool emerged to thump Leeds 5-0 at Elland Road and embarking on a strong run through to February to put themselves right back in play-off contention. Late goals were very much the norm during this period with back-to-back home games against Crystal Palace and Coventry City both being turned around from losing positions in the last five minutes as Holloway’s side demonstrated their never-say-die attitude.

The bump down to earth in early March coincided with the release of the club’s accounts from their season in the Premier League which revealed Owen Oyston had been paid a director’s salary of £11m, as well as benefitting from a controversial land deal. Three games without a win at that time threatened to derail the push for promotion but Blackpool did find their form again for the end of the season, aided once more by the loan arrival of Stephen Dobbie.

A 5th place finish meant a two-legged play-off with Birmingham City. An outstanding first leg display was only rewarded with a 1-0 lead, although Blackpool appeared to have put the tie beyond doubt with goals either side of half-time at St Andrews. Birmingham rallied to level the scores on the night, but couldn’t find the goal to take it to extra time – Blackpool were back at Wembley. Holloway’s side were arguably the better side on the day by quite some distance, but a late West Ham winner consigned the Seasiders to another season in the Championship.

2012/13 season – the inevitable departure

Blackpool started the season well enough as three consecutive wins sent them to the top of the table and installed as the bookmakers’ favourites to win the Championship. Since then though, the wheels have come off for a variety of reasons, as discussed here on this blog and here for the Two Unfortunates.Once more Holloway has missed out on many of his key targets and like the previous season, ended up with a huge batch of players unlikely to ever challenge the first team. It’s a disappointing end and one will never know if this work-in-progress could have gone on to succeed under Holloway this season. At the end of his three full seasons Holloway always had a case to suggest he had out-performed expectations. It now falls to somebody else to carry on his work.