Blackpool dare to dream before United break Holloway's heart
Manchester United 4 Blackpool 2
The last member of the opposition to be afforded a standing ovation by Old Trafford was Ronaldo – the original Ronaldo, in 2003 – so Ian Holloway, who left to a rapturous farewell from the home fans, can count himself among illustrious company.
The Blackpool manager would have swapped it all for survival in the Premier League and yesterday his team were down, they were up and finally they were down again, but not before they led 2-1 and for a brief five minutes looked like they might make the most sensational escape of all.
But in truth the prospect of being the first team to win a league game at Old Trafford this season was never really a goer and when it came to looking back on the day Holloway pronounced this was the end of the line for his Blackpool team. "That's it," he said, "you are famous for two seconds in football and then you are gone."
He painted a bleak picture of the immediate future for his club – the smallest ever to reach the Premier League – with what he described as "the vultures" ready to pick off his best players. Even those who are not courted by Premier League sides could, he said, be tempted by the bigger wages on offer from rival Championship clubs. "This group," he said, "will never be the same again."
It was classic Holloway: at times he vowed to build a new team that would come back to the Premier League next year, at other times he bemoaned a hopeless battle against the odds. And it was liberally sprinkled with his unique turn of phrase including: "My job is to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear and this is the best sow's ear I've ever had."
But, as Holloway himself admitted, the fat lady is singing and, in his words, "I don't like her tune." After another exceptional performance, including a brilliant free-kick for Blackpool's first goal, this will surely be the last we see of Charlie Adam in a Blackpool shirt. Holloway predicted that the likes of David Vaughan and goalkeeper Matt Gilks – both out of contract – as well as Stephen Crainey will soon be gone.
It was a hell of a way to sign off, especially when Gary Taylor-Fletcher put Blackpool into a 2-1 lead just before the hour that lasted for five minutes. At half-time, drawing 1-1 and with the scores going their way, Blackpool were on course to finish 16th. By the time the final whistle went they finished with only West Ham beneath them.
The cruellest joke of all is that they might yet qualify for the Europa League through the Fair Play league. Zoltan Gera's unlikely red card yesterday will have affected Fulham's chances and now Blackpool must wait on the referees' reports from their last four games to find out. By the way he was talking, Holloway will scarcely have a squad to compete in the Championship come August – never mind in Europe
As for Manchester United, they could not have been accused of underplaying the significance of their record-breaking 19th title yesterday, not with every area of the stadium festooned with the number. If the battle for a club like United is to defeat the complacency that comes with such sustained success then yesterday, as Nemanja Vidic held the trophy up, that did not look like an issue.
The champions by nine points from Chelsea in second place, the league table this morning does not reflect the closeness of the title race. Once United had disposed of Blackpool this turned into, among other things, a farewell for Edwin Van der Sar. When he made a save in the dying second, Patrice Evra knelt down next to him and genuflected. Van der Sar urged him to stand up and defend the corner.
This was a day to celebrate surpassing Liverpool's 18 titles and not much mention was made of the task that lies ahead at Wembley in Saturday's Champions League final against Barcelona. Indeed, even Ferguson, in his traditional, end-of-season turn on the mic did not refer to it. He did, however, thank "the owners", which was the only time he was booed.
Keith Southern should have scored in the second minute for Blackpool but froze when Adam's cross reached him. After that life got difficult for them. Park Ji-sung, another unexpected name in a very strong United side, scored the first, running on to a knockdown from Dimitar Berbatov and lifting the ball over Gilks. Evatt, who had a bad day, stumbled and fell at the critical moment.
Then came Adam's free-kick which deceived Van der Sar beautifully. The original award by referee Mike Dean was debatable. Blackpool went in at 1-1 and took the lead when Taylor-Fletcher turned in Vaughan's cross ahead of Jonny Evans. Anderson scored the equaliser and Evatt turned in the substitute Chris Smalling's cross for United's third.
Substitute Michael Owen ran on to Anderson's ball and finished sweetly for the fourth goal. By then it was all over for Blackpool anyway. Their fans never stopped singing that it was the best trip they have ever been on, but, as trips go, it will be a long way back.
Substitutes: Man Utd Smalling (Rafael, h-t), Owen (Park, 63), Rooney (Vidic, 84). Blackpool Varney (Taylor-Fletcher, 75), Phillips (Puncheon, 75), Ormerod (Southern, 86).
Booked: Man Utd Fletcher, Owen. Blackpool Vaughan. Man of the match Adam.
Match rating 6/10.
Possession Man Utd 50% Blackpool 50%.
Attempts on target Man Utd 11 Blackpool 7.
Referee M Dean (Wirral).
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