Blackpool take a slender one-goal lead to St Andrew's after a hard-fought Championship play-off first-leg victory last night. A cruelly deflected Tom Ince effort on half-time produced a result which in truth both managers will be content with going into Wednesday's second leg, leaving the race for Wembley wide open.
The talk beforehand was that the Birmingham manager, Chris Hughton, would set up to stifle the Seasiders. Nothing of the sort occurred, with winger Chris Burke causing Stephen Crainey all manner of problems down the right. His centre found Nathan Redmond who fired over, while Curtis Davies diverted a header wide
Midfield enforcer Angel Martinez volleyed over for the hosts, but they looked overly anxious to take a stranglehold of the game. At the other end, Marlon King again proved what a menace he is, clipping the bar with a drive. That seemed to serve as a wake-up call for Ian Holloway's flamboyant attacking quartet. On the stroke of half-time, Ince took a ball 25-yards from goal and his skimming effort took a cruel deflection off Davies, completely wrong-footing goalkeeper Colin Doyle to give Blackpool the lead.
By the hour-mark, the home side had really hit their stride. Matt Phillips skinned David Murphy and crossed for Gary Taylor-Fletcher, only for Peter Ramage to heroically block a certain goal. Birmingham were undone again soon after but the usually composed Stephen Dobbie side-footed over from close range.
"Deary me, I hope we don't rue some of those missed chances," Holloway said. "What a fantastic block for Taylor-Fletcher's, but I would have put everything I've got on Dobbie just rolling his in."
These two clubs, both looking for a swift return to the Premier League, were standing toe-to-toe in an intense affair. Substitute Kevin Phillips looked to have doubled the lead with a header, but was correctly ruled offside.
There was nearly one late twist but King was again unlucky, hitting the post. Hughton is hoping for a change in fortunes next week. "We arguably had the chance of the game right at the death and it's a very fortuitous goal that settles it. It was going wide and took a wicked deflection," he said. "But they were better than us, we hold our hands up."
Blackpool (4-2-3-1): Gilks; Eardley, Baptiste, Evatt, Crainey; Martinez, Ferguson; M Phillips, Dobbie (K Phillips, 76), Ince; Taylor-Fletcher (Dicko, 76). Substitutes not used: Halstead (gk),Southern,Harris.
Birmingham City (4-4-1-1): Doyle; Ramage, Ibanez, Davies, Murphy; Burke, N'Daw, Mutch, Elliott; Redmond (Spector, 74); King. Substitutes not used: Butland (gk),Townsend,Rooney,Zigic.
Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).