Blackpool supporters saw a rather peculiar offer fly into their email inboxes on Monday: free blood-pressure checks on the NHS. Fans are invited to go down to Bloomfield Road tomorrow morning, with the home dressing room transformed into a health clinic, for the test. Given the messy state their club currently finds itself in, it looks like an opportunity they ought not to refuse.
As this replay turned into a frozen farce devoid of any real quality, it bolted itself into rather unwanted extra-time. Nathan Delfouneso had looked to have won it, while Kieran Richardson scored with the final kick of normal time to put a dampener on the seaside spirit. Brede Hangeland’s eventual 116th-minute winner could make Blackpool nurses’ jobs much trickier with soaring blood pressure from clients coming through the Bloomfield Road doors.
It was a gutsy performance for Blackpool’s caretaker manager Steve Thompson, who saw this as another audition for the manager’s role, but it does not mask the troubles engulfing his club.
The Seasiders are managerless for the second time in as many months and are in grave danger of seeing a season of hope dissipate into despair. The core supporters must feel as if they have been taken for one hell of a ride, such is the depth of ill feeling following the defection of manager Michael Appleton to Blackburn Rovers just two months after replacing Ian Holloway.
“I’m ready to be a No 1, but it is the chairman’s decision. Whatever he does, I will support it,” Thompson said. “I don’t want to be known as a good No 2, but that doesn’t mean I’ll spit my dummy out.”
Maybe it was the weather – sub-zero on the coast – but the Seasiders did not truly showcase the faith that they could beat their more illustrious Premier League counterparts until much later in the piece. Fulham are no great shakes on the road, but Thompson has inherited a Blackpool team exceptionally low on confidence after being walked out on by two managers in a matter of months.
Martin Jol’s desire to win the fixture was unquestioned. They did miss Dimitar Berbatov and Bryan Ruiz, but the pair’s fluidity of movement might have been rendered useless on this “cabbage patch” of a pitch, to coin the phrase of the departed Appleton. It must be noted that the former Portsmouth man lasted a year at Fratton Park but just two months on the Fylde Coast.
“Their coach told me the pitch was 10 times worse than that last week,” Jol said, shocked. “It is a relief. We did OK in the circumstances, but they are a good team with a few talented players. Of course we should have won it at home because we had so many opportunities, but we just couldn’t score.
“We still tried to play,” he added. “That is the only thing we can do, but then again you have to score a goal and the problem comes when you don’t. The goal came in the 83rd minute and that was very disappointing.”
Whoever takes over at Blackpool still has a huge battle on their hands. Alan Curbishley is keen on taking on the challenge but his demands will almost certainly be too great for the frugal chairman, Karl Oyston, who has his sights set on the likes of Nick Barmby and the MK Dons manager Karl Robinson – who he asked permission to speak with last night.
Delfouneso should have been the hero very late on, scrambling in a scruffy winner, but his celebrations turned sour when Richardson thundered in an equaliser with the final kick of the game. What ensued was a surprisingly exciting period of extra-time with both teams guilty of missing presentable chances. There were brief remnants of the FA Cup magic, in the cold and under the lights, when Blackpool nearly caused an upset, but Hangeland’s header defeated the hosts after a gallant effort which should have yielded a trip to Manchester United or West Ham in the next round.
Blackpool (4-2-3-1): Gilks; Eardley, Broadfoot, Baptiste, Crainey; Osbourne (Sylvestre, 78), Basham (Cathcart, 89); Ince, Taylor-Fletcher, Delfouneso; Eccleston (Gomes, .65) Substitutes not used Phillips, Halstead, Angel, Harris
Fulham (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Riether, Senderos (Hughes, 71), Hangeland, Briggs; Dejegah, Baird, Karagounis, Kacaniklic (Richardson, 87); Petric (Duff, 79), Rodallega. Substitutes not used Stockdale, Riise, Kasami, Grimmer.
Referee A Marriner (West Midlands).