Blackpool Are Back!

Last updated : 12 August 2007 By John Secker

It seems that things are still not finally sorted out, but nevertheless this was tremendous news, and in the event it was when Wes created a moment of the old magic that Blackpool got their crucial break.

Overall this is a wonderful start to the season, though it is important to keep it in perspective. This was no easy win, Blackpool relied on some top class goalkeeping to preserve their lead, and a draw would not have been an unfair result. However this game proves that the current Blackpool squad, still playing with the spirit and enthusiasm of last season, are capable of competing and winning at Championship level.

It was a beautiful sunny August afternoon as 2,000 Blackpool fans made their way to the impressive Walkers stadium. The total attendance was over 26,000, highest of the day in the Championship, so it was a tough introduction to a new level of football. I

n addition to Hoolahan, the team featured new signings Gary Taylor-Fletcher and Stephen Crainey, and John Hills was on the bench, but otherwise the line-up showed considerable loyalty to the players who completed the fantastic run-in last May.

Paul Rachubka, now a permanent signing, was in goal, with Barker, Jackson and Evatt alongside Crainey in defence. Fox and Southern were in central midfield, with Morrell and Parker up front - as the game began it became clear that Taylor-Fletcher was playing on the wing, mostly on the right, though occasionally he switched with Hoolahan on the left.

The game began, and if Blackpool had any nerves about life in at a higher level they did not show. In the first ten minutes or so it was all Blackpool, as they came out of the blocks much faster. A series of throws up the right ended with a long ball from Barker into the box, but the header was weak and wide.

The pressure continued, and Parker got a yard ahead of his marker as he chased a ball into the box on the left, but the defender came back with an excellent tackle from behind, perfectly timed, to concede a corner. Following the corner the ball came out to Taylor-Fletcher who had a snap-shot from the edge of the box, but it was straight at the keeper. A little later a good layoff from Hoolahan led to a shooting opportunity for Fox, but he pulled it badly wide.

After about fifteen minutes Leicester began to get back into the game, particularly through two nippy looking wingers. A couple of times Rachubka looked uncertain, staying on his line when the defence expected him to come out to collect. A snap shot from the edge of the area gave him no problems, but a few minutes later a Leicester player turned well and hit a shot which dipped over Rachubka and struck the bar, bouncing out to be cleared.

Play was end to end now, with Blackpool looking to release Parker but missing out narrowly to the offside trap several times. Hoolahan looked a trifle short of match practice, though of course he is up against a better class of defender now, and several attempts to get something moving up the left were smothered. One move gave Morrell a chance to turn and shoot, but his shot was not hard enough and was easily saved. Back at the other end Blackpool conceded a free kick at the corner of the box on their right. The ball was chipped to the far post but nobody could get their head to it. Not long afterwards a hard low corner went through Rachubka's hands, and a Leicester player should have done better with his header at the far post.

Generally Blackpool's defence was coping well, not overawed by the opposition, and Taylor-Fletcher in particular did well coming back and helping out when needed. However a long range Leicester shot was dipping under the bar until Rachubka made a good flying save to tip it over the bar.

As half time approached, a ball up the middle into the area saw Parker, the keeper and a defender all arrive at the same time, and the ball bounced loose back down the pitch to Fox. He tried to hit the open goal, but a lob would have given the keeper time to get back, so he had to hit it hard. Unfortunately it was bouncing too high for him to get over the ball properly, and the shot went above the bar.

After the break, Blackpool were attacking the end where their fans were seated. Hoolahan started to look more comfortable in this half, and almost immediately he went on a run into the box, just left of centre. He beat several players and then hit a shot which defeated the keeper but flicked the outside of the far post. Not long afterwards Leicester replaced one of their big-name signings, Kishishev, who had made little impact on the game. Blackpool continued to attack, and they had another move up the right. The ball was crossed in and went right over to the far wing, where Hoolahan picked it up. He had three defenders around him, but he produced several brilliant moves, sucking them in and then beating them, leaving them behind and giving Hoolahan space to pass to an unmarked Crainey, who hit a firm cross beyond the far post. There were about five Blackpool players in the area as Taylor-Fletcher had a shot which was blocked. The ball fell to Southern, left of centre, and he struck a hard shot - the keeper got a hand to it but it struck the underside of the bar and flew into the back of the net. The visiting players and supporters celebrated wildly, and a dream start was on the cards. A Leicester player had fallen to the ground just before the goal, but there was no question of a foul, nor was he in any danger or impeding play, so there was no reason for the game to be stopped.

There was still half an hour to play, and Leicester struck back almost immediately, with a ball into the box and a close range shot which required a brilliant reflex save from Rachubka. Blackpool continued to push forward when they could, but increasingly they fell into a defensive mode, and one by one their attacking threats were withdrawn. Firstly Jorgensen came on for Taylor-Fletcher, though in fact the Icelandic international was involved in plenty of attacking moves. However when John Hills came on for Hoolahan, and then Gorkss replaced Morrell, Parker was the only attacking player left in tangerine.

This made it very difficult for Blackpool to hold the ball in the Leicester half, and the pressure on the away defence became constant. They did very well in the circumstances, but they were up against some useful forwards and inevitably the chances came along. Happily Paul Rachubka was in fine form - his early nervousness had gone and he had been coming out well when necessary, and catching the important crosses.

Now he made several great saves, including one double save to deny two forwards at close range. He also made another reflex save to turn a shot away for a corner, and Leicester again saw a shot hit the woodwork, the rebound being scrambled away. However the vast majority of the Leicester attacks were cleared well by the Blackpool defence, and as the game moved into five minutes of added time, Leicester started to get frantic, and their attacks lost their punch. It was still a nervous time until the referee finally blew the whistle, and Blackpool had earned their first Championship win.

There will be harder times ahead, of course, and the luck will run the other way at times. However credit must go to Simon Grayson who has preserved the team spirit and belief which has now led them to eleven consecutive wins (we don't count frendlies, do we?). It will be important to avoid any slip up in the apparently easier fixture against Bristol City next Saturday.

Team (4-4-2): Rachubka, Barker, Jackson (capt), Evatt, Crainey, Taylor-Fletcher (Jorgensen 70), Southern, Fox, Hoolahan (Hills 80), Morrell (Gorkss 85), Parker

Subs not used: Vernon, Burgess