A tangerine flag was flying high in the blustery wind on the Blackpool Tower yesterday and may yet be fluttering over Wembley Stadium for the Championship play-off final in two weeks' time. Demonstrating a combination of the skill and spirit that carried them into the semi-final as the division's form-horses with only one defeat in nine games, Blackpool recovered after conceding an early goal to earn a lead for Tuesday's second leg down by the Trent.
The Football League, ever independent, have again decreed that away goals count for nothing, so the Nottingham Forest supporters on the uncovered side of the ground who celebrated Chris Cohen's superb strike in the first quarter of an hour found its apparent value diminished by Keith Southern's miscued equaliser and Charlie Adam's successful penalty.
It was deserved reward for the team Ian Holloway has taken from 17th place to the top six – with dreams of more to come. "I'd have taken two-one, of course I would," he said. "Apparently we're a bunch of muppets who were going to go down. I can't tell you how proud I am of my lads. They've got great character but they're also very good players."
Forest, seeking to return to the highest level for the first time in 11 years, were unable to improve on their unfeasibly poor away record, which has not brought a victory on the road since January. They were the stronger side at the start and finish of the first half but could easily have suffered worse damage in the second period when Adam was playing shrewd passes through for the three strikers.
The visitors' manager Billy Davies is an optimistic character, however, who seems to have recovered from being sacked by Derby County so soon after taking them into the Premier League and now seeks to emulate Brian Clough by leading that club's great rivals up as well.
"I've no doubt we should have won the game," he said. "But that's what happens when you're not clinical. Play-offs are all about going into the second game with an opportunity to put yourself in the final and we've done that."
Where both managers agreed was in discussing the pitch, which was of the Blackpool beach variety. The swirling sea-breeze made conditions even harder, though it contributed initially to the first goal from the Forest goalkeeper's long clearance. Lee Camp's wind-assisted kick was headed up in the air by Blackpool's Alex Baptiste, allowing the Polish midfielder Radoslaw Majewski to slide it sideways for Chris Cohen to hit a sumptuous curling left-footed half-volley into the far corner of the net.
The first of eight bookings noted by Phil Dowd led to a lively exchange between the two managers, but given all that was at stake, the referee just managed to keep a lid on things.
It took the home side some 25 minutes to fashion a scoring chance and when they did an equaliser materialised. Seamus Coleman, the promising young right-back on loan from Everton, forced his way inside on his left foot and set up Ian Evatt for a cross that Southern mishit over the line.
Even so Forest could easily have been back in front by the interval. Dexter Blackstock headed against the bar and Nathan Tyson was unable to keep the rebound down. Then, after a corner, Wes Morgan's shot was blocked on the line by Coleman.
Holloway doubtless did his stuff at half-time, his team's response summed up soon afterwards when midfielder David Vaughan pursued an opponent for almost the whole width of the pitch before winning possession, to applause from his manager.
The game changed and 12 minutes into the half Adam played in DJ Campbell, who was tripped by James Perch. Adam's cool penalty brought his 18th goal of the season since becoming the club's record signing from Rangers at £500,000. Holloway changed his three attacking players, and it was not until added time that Forest came close to regaining parity, when Matthew Gilks saved well from Cohen.
Tuesday night promises to be lively.