Tuesday 24 October 2017

Dream dies for Holloway as his heroes go down fighting

Manchester Utd 4
Blackpool 2

Manchester United's players celebrate with the English Premier League trophy after beating Blackpool at Old Trafford yesterday. Photo: Getty Images
Manchester United's players celebrate with the English Premier League trophy after beating Blackpool at Old Trafford yesterday. Photo: Getty Images

Henry Winter

When the epitaph is written on Blackpool's season, it will be a simple inscription, a few words borrowed from their charismatic leader Ian Holloway. It will read: "We Had A Go". They attacked, they forgot to defend and yesterday they departed the Premier League to a standing ovation from Manchester United's supporters. Holloway's band of swashbuckling brothers will be much missed.

Low on wages but high on adventure, Blackpool brought a refreshing enterprise to the elite ranks, contributing 55 goals to a new Premier League record of 1,062. They had a go. Holloway genuinely believed Blackpool could win at the home of the new champions, although the colour drained from his face when he saw United's team-sheet.

The piece of paper must have read like a death warrant to Holloway. Alex Ferguson showed great respect for the integrity of the Premier League and also paid the visitors a huge compliment.

Edwin van der Sar captained on an emotional farewell, Nemanja Vidic barred the way to goal, Patrice Evra galloped down the left while Park ran hungrily and scored. Wayne Rooney even came on.

Yet Blackpool had a go, making light of Park Ji-sung's opener to equalise through Charlie Adam before the break. When Gary Taylor-Fletcher flicked Blackpool ahead early in the second half, a remarkable rescue mission appeared on. For a few precious minutes, Blackpool were 16th in the table and Old Trafford became a Theatre of Tangerine Dreams.

Those in the orange corner chorused "we'll only get 10 points", mocking those pre-season doomsayers who had ridiculed their hopes. For a few wonderful minutes, Blackpool looked down on Wolves, Wigan, Birmingham and the already doomed West Ham. Life was sweet.

Then, brutally, like a car-crash in slow-motion, with neutral fans rubber-necking, familiar defensive frailties returned to haunt Blackpool. One minute Holloway's men were climbing the ladder up the Premier League, the next they were sliding down the cruellest of snakes, passing Wolves and Wigan who were ascending to safety.

Blackpool died as they'd lived this season. Their exuberant, enduring commitment to attack was exposed by such ruthless opponents as United. The 2-1 scoreline was turned on its head, becoming 4-2 through Anderson, an Ian Evatt own goal and Michael Owen.

United showed the strength in depth that helped bring a 19th title, the quickness of mind and body in possession and an ability to spread goals around. Resilience is imbued in United's DNA and they have overturned far more daunting deficits than this.

Blackpool are gone but not forgotten. How can they be? They played all season with a rare passion. They gave United a scare home and away. Their fans never stopped singing. As United's class told, they remained defiant.

"This is the best trip I've ever been on," they still sang, still backing the team, still chanting Holloway's name. As the final whistle confirmed their return to the Championship, Blackpool supporters did not greet it as the Last Post, merely an invitation to sing even more.

After an embrace from Ferguson, Holloway waved to the fans and signalled to his players to go and salute their "12th man". Adam, Taylor-Fletcher and the rest needed little urging; they know this was a rollercoaster ride they had shared with their fans.

Until now. This was not simply the end of a season, this was the end of a team. Vultures will scatter the seagulls in the skies over Bloomfield Road. Adam will be sold, possibly to Tottenham, and his undeniable talent deserves to be on the grandest stages.

Holloway admitted that Vaughan, Stephen Crainey and 'keeper Matt Gilks will move on to pastures new and lusher. Others will follow.

Players come and go. As do managers. There will be chairmen who have noted how Holloway made a string of lesser lights brighten up the division.

In a season without real stars, Holloway has been box-office gold, although his paranoia towards the Premier League is becoming daft. As ever, those who will suffer most are the fans. They cannot move on. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport