Odds against them but Seasiders still buoyant
Blackpool 0 Stoke City 0: Blackpool's fate is in their own hands although tough away games loom
Sunday 01 May 2011
The sun poured down on the great resort as if it were Rimini or Benidorm but in the home dressing-room there was a realisation that they will need ice-cold heads to survive.
The first goalless draw here in nearly two years and Everton's late penalty at Wigan ensured that Blackpool remained out of the relegation zone; but of their final three games, one is at Tottenham, another at Manchester United. The one in between, at home to Bolton, is likely to decide whether Blackpool remain in the Premier League.
The odds must be that Blackpool will not get the four points they probably require to stay up but the odds were against them being promoted in the first place – and the odds were against them having 35 points with three matches to play.
It is still in their hands, however sweaty and slippery those palms might be. "When you give someone a dream, you always know you can shatter that dream," the Seasiders' manager Ian Holloway said afterwards. "But we still believe."
Just before the players came out, the Tannoys played The Monkees' "Daydream Believer", a song that encapsulates all the romance, naivety and optimism inherent in Blackpool's season. It was recorded in 1967, the year they were relegated from top-flight football.
By the finish Holloway's footballers were exhausted; they had wrung every drop of sweat and ability out of themselves but they had still not forced Asmir Begovic to make a single serious save in Stoke's goal. The previous Saturday, they had outplayed Newcastle without forcing the win that their season craved. Here they did no more than hold on.
Stoke might have seemed ideal opponents. In the Premier League there was nothing left to play for, an FA Cup final was a fortnight away and on Tuesday night they had seen Matthew Etherington injured.
In 2008, Portsmouth had made the FA Cup final and then lost all their remaining League fixtures but Stoke are fashioned from grittier material. From the opening moments when David Vaughan tried to dribble past the vast bulk of Robert Huth and was promptly flattened, the tone was set.
Holloway and his players have complained with some justification that they have been abandoned by luck just when the season entered its business phase but a minute before the interval they were handed a vast slice of fortune.
Blackpool surrendered possession from their own throw-in and saw Kenwyne Jones bursting through on goal. Just after Jones had rounded the keeper Matt Gilks, Ian Evatt, the remaining covering defender, slipped. Jones, eight yards out, albeit with a testing angle, had the goal at his mercy but he missed.
Holloway reflected: "Knowing Tony [Pulis] as I do, he would have chewed Jones's ear off at half-time." If he did, the Stoke manager was not prepared to repeat the words, observing only that "great strikers score great goals but they tend to miss easy chances and that was an easy chance".
Asked if it was a different Blackpool to the one that had beaten Stoke at the Britannia Stadium in December, Pulis remarked that then Stoke had created a bucketful of opportunities without converting them. Here, chances were rather more fleeting and of the two that fell to Glenn Whelan in the second half, one was saved, the other flew wide.
This evening Blackpool will unveil a statue of Jimmy Armfield, who vies with Sir Stanley Matthews as the club's greatest player, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of his retirement. Armfield's final game in 1971 was a 1-1 draw against Manchester United, and the statue shows the England captain with his foot on the ball, serene. Blackpool require that calmness now and they might need a 1-1 draw against United, too.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Man of the match: Evatt
Match rating: 6/10
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