Holloway has the last laugh after 'comedian' puts Blackpool back on the big stage

Blackpool 3 Cardiff City 2
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The Independent Football

Ian Holloway was at pains not to say anything silly about Blackpool's remarkable feat in reaching the Premier League for fear he would be lampooned as a clown once again. Fortunately his players were not so reticent.

His striker Brett Ormerod, who will go down in the club's history for having scored the £90m goal, came up with a quote of which Holloway would surely have been proud: "To do what we have done feels like landing on the moon without a rocket or a space helmet."

The remark shows the extent to which the Tangerines' team are made in the manager's own image. Snap this particular Blackpool rock in two and see the word "Holloway" run like a seam down the centre. For the past few weeks the manager has kept on insisting he is not crazy, so perhaps we can agree on unconventional. Or even exceptional, for the way he has invigorated a rag-tag team seemingly destined for relegation to League One to the extent that they have defied the odds and are now in the Premier League.

There was certainly nothing conventional about Holloway's team talk before Saturday's Play-off final with Cardiff City. At a time when some managers would be driving home points about who should be marking who at corners, Holloway delivered an emotional monologue about pride and belief that had his compilation of cheap buys, frees and loan signings on the verge of tears.

Ormerod said: "His pre-match team talk was brilliant. He told us how he'd been out of football for a year and hardly anyone in the game had talked to him, but how privileged he was to have got back with such a wonderful bunch of lads, and how proud he was of us. There were quite a few of us close to bursting into tears.

"And he told us this was our time, that we were the team in form and that we were the team with the most belief. He said we deserved a crack at the big time as much as anyone, and it was all in our hands. It was stirring stuff."

Holloway's team talk proved to be another moment of inspiration in a season that has marked out the Bristol-born manager as a genuine leader of men rather than a comedian with an inexhaustible supply of witty one-liners.

The "Clown Prince" of managers was dismissed by many as a fool when he was sacked by Leicester in May 2008, so much so that he was out of a job for a year and feared he might never work in football again. But since taking charge at Blackpool last summer, Holloway has overseen a transformation of both the team and the club that has been little short of phenomenal.

His voice was hoarse on Saturday evening as he spoke of his pride in his players, a team compiled for less than £1m. A year and a day after his arrival at the club, Holloway said it was time he was given a bit of credit for his achievement, rather than for his sometimes bizarre comments to the media.

"Don't call me crazy because I ain't," he said. "I'm a football manager and I've stuck to the football this year. I know what I'm doing and I've learnt. You can do what you like, you can say what you like but it's my demeanour that matters. There's times to be funny and make people laugh in a bit of a stressful moment. But I don't need to show that to the rest of the world. My lads will tell you how I am, how serious I am."

The Blackpool players obliged, with glowing references to Holloway's ability to create a team based on organisation and team spirit. His striker Ben Burgess said: "Everybody thinks he's just a madman but he's a very clever guy. He has us so well-drilled. Everybody knows exactly where they should be at every minute."

The midfielder Keith Southern, who has been with Blackpool for eight years, said the club's improvement is all down to Holloway. "The question I've been asked most in the past year has to be, 'Is he mad?' – and yes, he is, but he's also a football genius," Southern said.

"He has developed an amazing team spirit, he has totally sold us on his philosophy of how the game should be played, and improved so many of us as players. He has been the catalyst for everything good that's happened to this club in the past year."

There is no real secret to Holloway's success. His record at Queen's Park Rangers and Plymouth had marked him out as a promising manager, until his failure at Leicester. During his year out of management he studied tactics and systems, and decided at his next job he would adopt a 4-3-3 formation with the emphasis on attack. Yet the most striking thing about his Blackpool side is their ability to counter-punch once they have gone a goal behind.

It was the case in their play-off semi-final victory over Nottingham Forest, when they scored swiftly after going behind. The same was true on Saturday. Michael Chopra put Cardiff ahead after nine minutes, but the lead lasted just four minutes as Charlie Adam levelled with a stunning free-kick.

In the 37th minute Cardiff went ahead again thanks to Joe Ledley's strike but Blackpool bounced back a second time, again after four minutes, with a headed equaliser from Gary Taylor-Fletcher. The Tangerines then nosed ahead thanks to Ormerod's goal in first-half stoppage time and they held on to their lead throughout a tense second 45 minutes.

Blackpool's capacity to score within minutes of conceding is testament to their powers of determination and courage. However, going behind is a habit they must get out of in the Premier League, as giving away early goals to the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United will be far harder to recover from.

Blackpool's run to victory in the Play-off final shows just how far team bonding, inspirational leadership and organisational discipline can take you. They were the form team in the closing weeks of the season, and carried that all the way to the Premier League.

Holloway's blueprint has shown every other lower-league team how it can be done, on a shoestring budget.

That, rather than how Blackpool perform in the Premier League next season, is the measure of Holloway's achievement.

Blackpool (4-3-3): Gilks; Coleman, Evatt, Baptiste, Crainey; Vaughan (Bannan, 89), Southern, Adam; Campbell, Taylor-Fletcher (Burgess, 53), Ormerod (Dobbie, 60). Substitutes not used: Rachubka (gk), Clarke, Euell, Edwards.

Cardiff City (4-4-2): Marshall; McNaughton (Gerrard, 74), Hudson, Blake, Kennedy; Burke (McCormack, 58), McPhail, Ledley, Whittingham; Chopra, Bothroyd (Etuhu, 15). Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), Quinn, Capaldi, Wildig.

Referee A Marriner (West Midlands).

Attendance: 82,244.

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