Michael Jackson and Patrick Agyemeng
t has been quite a week for Blackpool, and things look a great deal better now than they did at the start. A draw and two wins, three goals for and only one against - and that a dodgy linesman's decision. Out of the bottom three, and indeed up to eighteenth place now. But best of all, of course, a win at Deepdale. Of all the things we hoped for when Blackpool were promoted last May, this was the ultimate, victory at the home of the ancient enemy. Well deserved, too - it was a rousing game but Blackpool wanted it more, and produced excellent performances in all areas of the pitch. After two strange Man of the Match awards at Bloomfield Road, Hoolahan gave a display here worthy of that description - although Crainey, Morrell and Rachubka might also have been adjudged the pick of the visitors. The Blackpool end was packed and out-sang the home supporters all game - all in all, it does not get much better than this.
It was a filthy day for Blackpool's first visit to Deepdale in many seasons, brought forward to lunchtime at the request of the police. Blackpool had made one change from the team which drew at Scunthorpe, with Mike Flynn's goal earning him promotion from the bench at the expense of Fox. Jackson kept his place as captain despite a stomach upset overnight, and received a huge cheer from the visiting fans as he ran out at his old ground for the first time in tangerine. Blackpool therefore had their first choice defensive line-up of Barker, Jackson, Gorkss and Crainey, Taylor-Fletcher, Flynn, Jorgensen and Hoolahan across the middle and Morrell and Burgess in attack. A calf strain prevented any contribution from Blackpool's old boy, Brett Ormerod.
Lewis Neal and Andy Morrell
The game kicked off, and within the first minute Blackpool had won a corner through Morrell. It was encouraging to see this coming into the centre of the box, although it was scrambled away - Preston clearly don't have their defence well marshalled. Moments later Morrell won another, but this time Hoolahan hit it much too hard and it cleared everyone and went for a throw. Still, an encouraging start.
The next fifteen minutes or so were fairly uneventful, as both teams pushed forward but failed to create any chances. Preston looked most dangerous when they simply slid the ball through the middle and used their speed to chase it - they did not have anyone with the skill on the ball of Hoolahan. Wes himself got his first real chance to run with the ball after about ten minutes, and immediately looked good, beating two or three people, although the move eventually came to nothing. This was one of those games where Wes was beating people all over the pitch, and Preston never got the measure of him. However it was Preston who had the next chance, when a shot from outside the box whistled just wide of the goal, though Rachubka may have had it covered.
Kaspars Gorkss and Michael Flynn
Not long afterwards Blackpool really should have been ahead. Hoolahan took the ball forward up the centre and then passed to Flynn. He played a one-two and was suddenly clear in the centre of goal. The flag stayed down but as Flynn tried to place his shot the keeper did well to get his leg in the way and block it away to the wing. Crainey picked it up and played a cross back into the box. This came right across to Burgess who controlled the bouncing ball and fired in a good shot, but again the keeper made an excellent save.
Preston had a spell now when they were the better team, and there were a couple of nervous moments for Blackpool. The first came when a simple one-two saw the Preston centre-forward, Agyemang, beat Jackson and ran into the box. Rachubka came flying out but missed the ball and Agyemang hurdled him - if he had gone down it might have been a penalty and a red card, but to his credit he stayed on his feet. Happily for Blackpool he had been driven wide and caught the ball just before it reached the by-line. He could only roll it across towards the goal, and Gorkss managed to get back and stop it, though it lay there worryingly for a moment before Blackpool were able to kick it away.
Not long afterwards Agyemang ran up the middle again. Jackson came sliding in with a challenge on the edge of the box, and the forward went down, but the referee waved it away. The Preston pressure continued, and twice Rachubka made sharp saves from shots inside the area. Blackpool had few chances during this spell, a Burgess header over the bar was the only real moment, and at the break the home team had probably just edged the first half.
When the teams re-emerged into the rain and wind, Blackpool were attacking the end where their supporters were massed, and in the first minute Morrell took the ball off the right back and raced forward up the wing and into the box. He took it to the line but unfortunately he had outpaced the rest of the attack and there was no-one waiting for a cross, so he played the ball off a defender for a corner. This was cleared, but Blackpool now had their tails up and were making most of the running. Hoolahan was the most influential player in creating pressure, but everyone was working hard and threats were created on both wings, with Crainey working with Hoolahan and Fletcher-Taylor and Barker causing problems on the right. Jorgensen had been quiet in the first half, but he started to get more involved in attack, and in fact put the ball in the net at one point, though the offside flag had already gone up.
Preston played the ball forward when they could, but the Blackpool defence was looking pretty comfortable now. However, just after the hour Jackson, who had started to flag, probably as a result of his illness, was replaced by Evatt. This was a pretty daunting moment for the big man to step back into competitive football after a two-month layoff, but he slotted in seamlessly. Only a couple of minutes later Blackpool were defending, and Crainey won the ball on the left. He played it forward to Hoolahan, who ran up the centre, and then released a perfect ball into the path of Burgess, who was in full flight up the left channel. He had reached the corner of the box when a defender came across with a poor tackle and took his legs away - there was never a doubt and the penalty was given. After his miss against Norwich Hoolahan could have been excused, but say what you like about him, he does not hide from responsibility. He stepped up and as the keeper dived right he chipped it up the middle into the goal.
Wes Hoolahan celebrates his penalty goal
Blackpool did not sit back, and for a while they still looked the more likely team to score. Taylor-Fletcher went off, replaced by Parker who went up front alongside Burgess. Morrell dropped to the right wing ahead of Barker, and here he did splendid work for the rest of the game, tackling back, picking up the loose ball and generally doing exactly the job Blackpool needed. Up front Parker's pace was causing problems, but he was not quite as sharp as he could have been, and was far too eager to go to ground at the slightest contact, when a bit more persistence might have brought rewards. He won nothing for these dives, and one in particular inside the area wasted a very good opportunity to get a low cross in from a dangerous position.
Simon Whaley and Shaun Barker
In the last ten minutes Preston began to get some pressure, though when they got the ball into the box the Blackpool defence dealt well with it. The most dangerous chances came from three free kicks in the centre. The first was about ten yards outside the box, but it was struck straight at the wall. Then in another attack Gorkss dived across and brought his man down right on the edge of the area, earning a yellow card. This looked very serious, but the shot was driven low across the front of the wall and well wide of the goal. Then, into injury time, Evatt tangled with a forward well off the ball, again about ten yards out and a little right of the middle. Evatt was booked, and this time the free kick was much better, curving over the wall and striking the right hand end of the bar. It bounced down into the area but a Blackpool boot cleared it to safety.
To waste a little time Welsh came on for Hoolahan, and the final throw for Preston was a corner, when they sent their keeper forward. Rachubka seized the ball when it came over, but sensibly, rather than trying a wild hoof upfield and giving it back, Blackpool took it forward and kept it in the Preston half for the last few seconds. The whistle went, and the celebrations could begin. The police held the away fans back for about fifteen minutes, but that just gave them more time to sing and chant, and even the long wet walk back to the transport could not dampen their joy.
Andy Morrell and Youl Mawene
Not a display of fine quality football, although Wes beat players again and again. It was mostly great spirit and a willingness to work. Preston were poor, and failed to take their chances, you can see why they are in their current league position. Blackpool deserved the points, and this has certainly made their own position look more comfortable. They still need to solve the scoring problem - the last time they led anybody by more than a single goal was at Wembley. They have come out of a nasty little slump, and with three home games in a row on the way they have a chance to put that well behind them.
Team (4-4-2): Rachubka, Barker, Jackson (capt, Evatt 63), Gorkss, Crainey, Taylor-Fletcher (Parker 75), Flynn, Jorgensen, Hoolahan (Welsh 90), Morell, Burgess
Subs not used: Fox, Vernon