Blackpool face Manchester United as relegation scrap goes down to the smallest margins

Blackpool face Manchester United on Sunday with Ian Holloway’s side playing for their Premier League future against the champions-in-waiting. The Seasiders trail Birmingham City by a single goal and, with the Carling Cup winners also facing a tough away trip to Tottenham Hotspur, and Wigan Athletic, Wolverhampton Wanderers, and Blackburn Rovers all still in the relegation dogfight, Blackpool’s inaugural Premier League campaign is likely to go to the wire.

Beginning and ending with away games, the Tangerines have played a full part in some enthralling, exhilarating ties – last week’s 4-3 triumph over Bolton Wanderers, a scintillating 5-3 defeat to Everton at Goodison Park and the 4-0 victory at Wigan on the opening day of the season, to name just three – as well as beating Liverpool home and away. There have, however, been as many results to frustrate and disappoint the Bloomfield Road faithful, including defeats by relegation rivals Wolves and Wigan in recent weeks, and thrashings by both Arsenal and Chelsea, as Holloway refused to compromise his attacking principles, the same principles that have thrilled the division and saw Blackpool rise to fourth in the embryonic autumn table.

Prior to facing a rampant Chelsea, scorers of 21 goals in their opening five games, in September, Holloway said: “We went to Newcastle with four strikers…if we hadn’t, I don’t think we could have won. Can we do that against Chelsea? I’m not sure. But there is a wonderful opportunity for us…to have a free shot.” Chelsea won that game 4-0, scoring all four before half-time. While Holloway’s comments neatly summed up Blackpool’s situation – their underdog status meaning nothing was expected of them at Stamford Bridge – and a goalless second-half may be something of a moral victory for a newly-promoted side, that attitude may also be what has left Blackpool in such a precarious position ahead of the last game of the season. With just one goal separating Blackpool from Birmingham, and Holloway’s side having comfortably outscored the Blues, even a tiny amount of pragmatism at various points of the season could have reversed the roles and left Blackpool outside the drop zone at this decisive time.

A more defensive Blackpool was never likely to manifest itself. In August, speaking after a pre-season friendly, Holloway said: “We’ll try and attack teams. I think the best form of defence is by attacking someone. I think it was proved last year – if you go to Chelsea or Tottenham away and [defend], you can get stuffed out of sight. I don’t want to do that.” Only time will tell if Holloway still feels the same way on Monday morning, after Blackpool’s fate is decided, but the manager could not have predicted such a tight relegation scrap where one goal could be the difference between a return to the Championship or another year in the top flight. Regardless of the outcome on Sunday, Blackpool and their boss have illuminated the Premier League, but need one more groundbreaking result to stay there when they meet Manchester United.

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