It’s almost unheard of for a football manager to be so downbeat but in Lee Clark’s case it’s difficult not to sympathise. His Blackpool side were defeated 3-0 by in-form Charlton on Tuesday evening, and although not yet mathematically down, at 18 points short of safety with only 24 points left to play for this season, Clark’s description of “a slow death”, while somewhat melodramatic, in football season terms is not too far off the mark.
“You just want the season to end and you can start again,” Clark commented after the defeat. “We know what our fate is and we just need to change the mind-set,”
As the gap behind the fellow strugglers grew ever wider, the tipping point arguably arrived when the Seasiders were beaten at home by then second-bottom Wigan in February; a win would have brought them level with their Lancashire rivals and kept the deficit to overall safety to single figures. Clark has mentioned on a couple of occasions that his job is safe and that he has been promised the necessary funds in the summer to put a League 1 game plan into action. Let’s hope he is indeed given this opportunity.
While not quite as hopelessly adrift, Blackpool’s fellow relegation strugglers are quickly running out of lives as well. Millwall’s interim boss Neil Harris has picked up a single point and two blanks in his two games so far following Ian Holloway’s sacking, and the Lions lie eight points adrift of safety. Nevertheless, the fans’ favourite remained upbeat, and, following the draw with Brighton, said: “Yes we are in a difficult position – the league table doesn’t lie, we are in a tough place – but we have got games to win, performances to give, contracts to be earned by players, and a fan base that are demanding we keep going.”
On the plus side, it proved a point gained as both Fulham and Rotherham lost on Wednesday evening and that also proved some consolation to Wigan, who kept their deficit to a manageable six points. One could be harsh and say it was an opportunity missed on Tuesday evening to turn up the heat on their rivals by closing the gap to three points but in fairness a home fixture with Watford wasn’t the easiest challenge. The Hornets’ 2-0 win took them top as a result of Bournemouth being held by Cardiff.
Middlesbrough also leapfrogged the Cherries after their crucial win over Derby, and remain level on points with Watford but a goal behind. The battle for automatic promotion has settled slightly, with the five-horse race of 10 days ago now reduced to three with Derby and Norwich having only taken three points between them during that time. The Rams are the latest of the challengers to have suffered a serious slump in form – no win in five – although a string of injuries have played a major part, with top scorer Chris Martin, who has missed out with a hamstring strain in recent weeks, being a particular loss.
Despite Bournemouth’s fall out of the top two, automatic promotion is still within their own hands – as soon as Saturday lunchtime, in fact, when Middlesbrough visit Dean Court.
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