Ian Holloway survives scare at Birmingham as Blackpool reach Wembley final

Birmingham City 2 Blackpool 2 (Blackpool win 3-2 on aggregate)

St Andrew's

The Championship play-offs never seize to amaze, and it was the case again as Birmingham nearly pulled off one of the great end-of-season comebacks against the exciting exuberance of Blackpool. Leading 1-0 from the first leg, goals from Stephen Dobbie and Matt Phillips just before and after half-time had looked to have put the tie beyond doubt for Ian Holloway's team. However, goals from Nikola Zigic and Curtis Davies made for a nerve-jangling final half hour.

"I'm lost for words. It looked like we'd seen it through but what a fightback. If they'd scored a third one, I couldn't see us living with it," Holloway said. "I'm delighted, because we knew it would be tough. I'm very proud and pleased for everybody at the club, to come here and withstand that onslaught and just hang on in the end."

The spirit and attacking flair of the Seasiders never wavered, but without the nerves that marred their first-leg defeat the Blues were keen to exert pressure from the off in a seesaw tussle. They threw men forward, looking for that all-important lead. David Murphy whipped in a wonderful cross, picking out Marlon King. With the goal at his mercy, the striker's effort hit the turf before clipping the bar.

Those early ventures opened up the game. Heavy rain left the pitch sodden, making for greasy conditions. Alex Baptiste's slip saw Zigic ping a shot goalwards that Matt Gilks was equal to. The conditions were the eventual undoing of City. Colin Doyle skidded to pick up a routine throughball but his momentum took him out of the area, forcing him to concede a throw-in. From that, Phillips won a corner and the resulting set play yielded the opening goal. The delivery wasn't dealt with properly and Baptiste's overhead kick was blocked, leaving Dobbie to skim a shot in from the tightest of angles.

Blackpool looked to have put the tie beyond any doubt three minutes after the restart. Phillips made a superb darting run in between defenders to get on the end of Stephen Crainey's lofted pass before coolly guiding the ball off a post and in for a seemingly unassailable three-goal lead.

Not so, because on 63 minutes City salvaged some hope, Zigic finally getting in behind the resolute away back four. With a hint of offside, he gave Gilks the eyes and drove into the net.

The intensity of the opening moments of the first half were back, the crowd baying for blood. Their team responded and Blackpool were all at sea, failing to defend a corner and allowing Davies to thunder home a header. The place erupted, and Holloway must have been regretting bringing Keith Southern on for Thomas Ince earlier in the half – his team had lost the initiative.

He tried to rectify it by introducing the rapid Nouha Dicko as an outlet, but Birmingham still poured forward. A miraculous last-ditch tackle from Stephen Crainey prevented King bearing down on goal, which could have taken the tie to extra-time.

Wembley will be invaded by Tangerines next Saturday, as their team once again compete for a place in the Premier League.

Chris Hughton, though beaten, was typically dignified. "Over the two legs they were the better team, but we showed a lot of character," said the Birmingham manager. "I was so pleased with the comeback. The crowd pushing to get that third goal makes me feel proud of these players. We're all hurting now, but the next couple of days will give the players time to reflect. They will remember tonight. With the atmosphere, it was something very special to be involved in."

As for Blackpool, expectation levels are greater thantwo years ago. But Sam Allardyce and his Hammers stand in the way of their being top-flight entertainers come August. Holloway said: "We're going to get home and then try and take on someone who has finished 11 points above us and beat us 8-1 over the two legs this season. You don't get a bigger test than that."

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Doyle; Ramage, Ibañez, Davies, Murphy; Burke, Mutch, Spector (N'Daw, 44), Townsend (Redmond, 62); Zigic, King. Substitutes not used Butland, Elliott, Rooney.

Blackpool (4-2-3-1): Gilks; Eardley, Baptiste, Evatt, Crainey; Ferguson, Martinez; M Phillips (K Phillips, 85), Dobbie (Dicko, 76), Ince (Southern, 69); Taylor-Fletcher. Substitutes not used Halstead, Cathcart.

Referee C Foy (Merseyside).

Hammers form guide

Blackpool will have to upset the form book at Wembley next week if they are to return to the Premier League, having been well beaten by Sam Allardyce's West Ham twice in the regular season.

15 Oct 2011: West Ham 4-0 Blackpool

John Carew's early header had the hosts in front at the break, before three further goals – two from Sam Baldock – in eight minutes confirmed the points for the Hammers.

21 Feb 2012: Blackpool 1-4 West Ham

Leading 2-1, West Ham were forced to field Henri Lansbury in goal after Rob Green was dismissed. Blackpool were unable to take advantage, with the London side sealing the win.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence