90 minutes from delight. 90 minutes from despair. Football is a game of fine margins at the best of times, but it doesn’t get much finer than a 1-0 aggregate lead in a playoff semi final.
‘Pool head to Birmingham tomorrow night knowing that their efforts last Friday have left them just one game from Wembley, but that another performance of similar magnitude is required at St. Andrew’s if they are to progress to face West Ham on Saturday week.
Ian Holloway’s side failed to make their second half domination count at Bloomfield Road, meaning that Chris Hughton’s side are very much still in the tie – indeed, the Blues will fancy their chances of overturning the deficit in front of their own faithful.
A massive performance from everyone in tangerine (including the fans) is required tomorrow night if the Seasiders are to take a monumental step towards returning to the Premier League at the first time of asking.
Ian Holloway was delighted with his side’s performance in Friday night’s first leg, but knows that the tie is far from over:
‘I have the utmost respect for the way Birmingham played on Friday and I have the utmost respect for their club. Their fans were magnificent.
‘But I was even more delighted with the way we played, and I think Birmingham will be happy with just a one-goal deficit.
‘We have proved one thing now – that we can beat Birmingham over 90 minutes.
‘We hadn’t done that during the season and we didn’t do it last year either [in the Premier League], so that is the first time I’ve managed to do that against Birmingham and I am very pleased.
‘They are a good side, a very well run outfit, and so I was very proud of us on the day that we managed to play well and get a result.
‘However, basically we are at half-time and if you talked to me at half-time in any other game you wouldn’t understand what on earth I was on about because there is no result at that stage.
‘It is the same in this scenario. There is no full-time result yet.
‘All I can tell you is that my team now knows how good they are because of how well we played. They also know they can beat Birmingham because unless I am very much mistaken we won that game 1-0.
‘We had lots of chances, we created those chances against a Birmingham team who are very organised and don’t concede too many, and that will do my lot the world of good.
‘We have a good team, who are playing well. We’ve not lost in a while and the players are getting better all the time and developing as a group.
‘No one gave us much of a chance a couple of years ago when we took a one-goal lead to Nottingham Forest but I remember us doing pretty well that night.
‘We will give it everything we’ve got at Birmingham and, with a little bit of luck throw in – because we all need that – hopefully it will be enough.’
Ollie has also pinpointed wingers Tom Ince and Matt Phillips as being key players for his side tomorrow night:
‘That lead we’ve got is good, because as it stands they now have to come out and that might leave some spaces for our attackers.
‘Now we have some players who might be able to take advantage of that.
‘I mean our two young lads on the wings.
‘Good gracious me, I wouldn’t want to face those two.
‘Those lads are fast, they are direct, they have skill and they can score goals.
‘They have been superb for me in the second half of the season and the nice thing is that they are still learning every week and still improving. They are brilliant to watch and I would pay to see them myself – that’s the biggest compliment I can give them.
‘We’ve also got Stephen Dobbie with the skill he has, Gary Taylor-Fletcher who is able to get hold of it and do things.
‘We have a lot of strength going forward and we are going to need that. Birmingham are a very good side and they finished fourth in the table for a reason.
‘So anyone getting excited or carried away by the fact that we are 1-0 up from the first leg, I want to say to them that nothing is done.
‘Birmingham know that as well and it now comes down to one more 90 minutes.
‘Can we deal with them? Can we deal with their set pieces? Can we keep the ball out of our net? Our gameplan is to try and score, and then to try and keep scoring more. Will it work? Who knows – we`ll find out on Wednesday.
‘We are all looking forward to it. These are the kind of games, the kind of moments in life, that you most look forward to.’
Speaking of Incey, the youngster has said that the Seasiders will go to St. Andrew’s and attack their hosts:
‘We could have really killed the tie [on Friday].
‘We’re going to go to Birmingham with an advantage and we’ll try to score goals there to really kill the tie.
‘We have let them off the hook but we’ve got to be brave.
‘We’ve got to show character at Birmingham to defend, but we can also nick goals on the counter attack.’
Staying with the ‘Pool camp, keeper Matt Gilks says that nobody has mentioned the word ‘Wembley’ since ‘Pool sealed their playoff place:
‘No-one has been talking about Wembley.
‘We said before the first game on Friday that if we won we weren’t going to go round celebrating. There would be no high-fives or backslaps.
‘We may have a lead but we are going to be respectful because we know it is only half-time in the tie.
‘So no-one is getting excited because it is a two-legged affair and the gaffer has reminded us of that.
‘He has hammered home the importance of keeping our heads free of emotion and that is exactly what we are going to do.’
Meanwhile, in the Birmingham camp, manager Chris Hughton has demanded that his players improve on their abject showing from Friday night:
‘We have a deficit of only one goal and we’ve been strong at home all season.
‘And, if we’re better than we were on Friday night, we’ll have a chance.
‘There will be chances on Wednesday night, and it’s about the team that gets that bit of fortune.
‘They were better than us in the first leg.
‘We just didn’t keep the ball well enough. We need to be safer with possession.
‘But it can be a funny game. The goal that settled it was a shot going wide which took a wicked deflection. And we had the best chance from Marlon King right at the end.’
Birmingham City Team News:
Keeper Colin Doyle is expected to be fit after picking up a shoulder injury in Friday’s game.
Nikola Zigic could be in line for a recall as Hughton may look to shuffle his pack, otherwise his matchday squad is expected to be the same as it was on Friday.
Stephen Carr, Keith Fahey, Steven Caldwell and Boaz Myhill remain long term absentees.
Player to watch: Nikola Zigic
It was surprising that the lanky striker didn’t make an appearance in the first leg, but expect him to play a part tomorrow night – and the Blues will be a very different proposition indeed if he enters the height of play, with his height bound to attract defenders towards him, allowing space for others.
Should he win the ball in the air, it’s vital that the Seasiders win any second balls. Whoever marks him tomorrow night will have a very busy night, especially from set pieces.
Blackpool Team News:
Ian Evatt is expected to be fit despite suffering an injury to his already broken nose on Friday night (expect the hosts to target Evatt, especially if we don’t name a centre half on the bench).
Roman Bednar is pushing for a recall after making his return for the reserves recently, but is likely to miss out alongside the likes of Ludovic Sylvestre and Lomano Tresor LuaLua.
Tom Barkhuizen has returned to training with the Seasiders following his loan spell at Hereford but isn’t likely to be included either.
Player to watch: All of them
On such an occasion it would be unfair to highlight one player as being the key; everyone who plays a part tomorrow night needs to perform to the best of their ability if we’re to get through.
Match Facts & Stats
Blackpool have won 39 and Birmingham 32 of their 90 previous meetings.
Birmingham are hoping to gain promotion to the Premier League via the play-offs for the second time in their history. Four of their previous five attempts were unsuccessful.
The club, who finished one place and one point higher than Blackpool in fourth, suffered their first defeat in 10 games in Friday’s first leg reverse.
This is their 62nd fixture of the season. It is Blackpool’s 53rd.
Two years after taking Newcastle into the top-flight automatically, Chris Hughton is hoping to guide Birmingham back to the big time, in his first play-off campaign as a player or manager.
Bolton (1995) are the only club to have lost the first leg of a play-off semi-final, and gone on to gain promotion to the Premier League.
Birmingham lost just once at home in the regular league season, conceding just fourteen goals in the process.
Two years ago Ian Holloway’s Blackpool took a one-goal lead into the away leg of the Championship play-off semi-final, duly won the tie, and then beat Cardiff in the final.
Last Friday’s 1-0 first leg victory took the Seasiders’ unbeaten sequence to eight games (W5, D3).
It was also Blackpool’s 10th consecutive victory in play-off games. They are the only club to have risen from the fourth tier to the top-flight entirely through this route, although it did take nine years.
History would favour Blackpool. The club finishing fifth in the second tier after 46 regular fixtures has gone on to gain promotion to the Premier League through the play-offs six times in the last 20 years, whereas the club ending fourth have been ultimately successful only twice since 1992.
There is no away goal rule in the playoffs, and the game will go to extra time and penalties if the aggregate score is level after 90 minutes and 120 minutes.
Brum keeper Colin Doyle has saved four out of the last five penalty kicks h
Either a pre-season friendly, or West Ham at Wembley…