The Thursday Preview: Blackpool Vs Cardiff
Saturday marks the end of a 288 day marathon for Blackpool and Cardiff as both teams head to Greater London for a match that recalls the corresponding Play-Off Final of two years ago between the Cities of Bristol and Hull. Like that contest, this year’s guarantees the elevation of a side you can’t quite get your head around seeing Gary, Alan and Alan patronise on MOTD in a few months.
Steve Claridge remarks in his cliché-tastic preview (both have “climbed mountains” and Blackpool have been a “breath of fresh air”) that “it is a shame that one of them will not get promoted” which is probably true to some extent: the vast majority of us would surely prefer to see these two top-flighting ahead of a Bolton or a Blackburn any day of the week.
However, given a choice I’m guessing that, like me, your average fan would pick Blackpool by preference. Amongst the favourites for relegation last summer, Ian Holloway’s Tangerines have had a wonder season in which it’s been difficult for commentators to avoid resorting to Claridge-esque cliché. I took a bit of a swipe at the Bristolian back in July, but his record since arriving at Bloomfield Road is practically spotless; as Paul Wilson wrote last week, his way of “getting the best out of a group of players by organisation and ingenuity without recourse to the chequebook” has been admirable. So much so that Holloway has been linked to the vacancy at Upton Park.
An advocate of purposeful, attacking football, Holloway has long rejected the myth that limited budgets should necessitate the mind-numbingly conservative tactics that in a certain way characterise this league, and in this sentiment he and counterpart Dave Jones are kindred spirits. Blackpool and Cardiff were the only teams to exceed 70 in the goals for column outside the top two this year, and even though both fell outside the top six in terms of goals conceded their progressive intent yielded a pair of Play-Off Final spots, perhaps suggesting the way forward in our division.
The Bluebirds have in no small way benefited from the prolificacy of their four-pronged attack. A staggering 79% of their 76 League and Play-Off goals have been scored by one of Peter Whittingham, Chris Burke, Michael Chopra or Jay Bothroyd, and it’s fair to say that Cardiff hopes probably rest on the performances of this quartet. Indeed, of the 15 League games that these four have drawn a blank in, only one has resulted in a win: a late-season 1-0 triumph at QPR in which Joe Ledley, who’s struggled with hip problems for much of the season, netted.
Blackpool haven’t had to rely on so small a coterie going forward, but deep-lying midfielder Charlie Adam has hogged the public eye with several performances reminiscent of Roy Race’s time at Mel Park. The club’s protracted pursuit of Adam last summer has been fully justified: his 17 League and Play-Off goals more than influencing the outcome of his team’s season, and he should be playing in the lower half of the Premiership next season regardless of what happens on Saturday. Further forward, DJ Campbell’s late flurry of goals alongside seasoned strike-partners Brett Ormerod and Gary Taylor-Fletcher provide something of a wild card.
Ex-Bluebird Robert Earnshaw has warned his former club about Blackpool’s exploitation of their small club, fly-by-night nature in their late surge for npower Armageddon. True as that may be, I can’t deny feeling a frisson of hope that Blackpool can overcome the odds once again and build on the foundations of this impressive first year for Holloway. A palpable figure rides on it for both clubs, but the papers are licking their lips in talking about a ‘pool win here, here and here, and the thought of this ungainly bunch in the Big League is one worth relishing.