When the fixtures for the 2012-13 season were announced last June, fans of Blackpool FC were in chirpy mood. Their team had lost narrowly to West Ham in the Championship play off final a few weeks previously and were amongst the early favourites to put in a promotion challenge. There would be, it was theorised, a celebration party on the last day of the season at the Reebok Stadium with the place decked out in orange by a massive travelling contingent.
It hasn’t quite worked out that way. The Seasiders have only just accrued enough points to ensure safety against relegation and it is Bolton Wanderers who are the form team going into the final day of the campaign.
That seemed unlikely a few weeks ago, but an excellent run of home results, coupled with a slump from almost all of the other contenders has left the Whites in prime position to secure a play off place. Dougie Freedman has cause to think the gods are smiling upon him.
Blackpool on the other hand have been unfortunate with managers ever since the departure of super-charged country bumpkin, Ian Holloway. First they picked Michael Appleton who exited quickly to Blackburn Rovers, only to be sacked 10 minutes later.
Now they have Paul Ince. The former England international was sent off for club and country, involved in an assault on a Crystal Palace fan, clashed with England team mate Graham Le Saux after a game at Anfield and served a suspension for slagging off referee Pierluigi Collina. The little charmer. On the plus side, he tried his best to relegate Blackburn, before joining the less than exclusive Former Ewood Managers Association, which is currently looking for larger premises
Not everything in the Reebok garden is rosy. Freedman has problems with certain players.
Mark Davies : Injured.
Jay Spearing: Injured.
David N’Gog: Injured.
Zat Knight: Available to play.
Craig Dawson has returned to parent club West Brom, which leaves punch look-a-like David Wheater, Tim Ream and Matt Mills to compete for a centre back place. Add in left back Marcos Alonso who would be better employed in midfield and the legs-have-gone Sam Ricketts on the other flank and it’s clear why clean sheets have been as rare as a Luis Suarez act of contrition.
It may be young blood that drags Bolton over the finishing line. Josh Vela has performed admirably in partnering Medo Kamara in midfield, and Tom Eaves and Zac Clough are on stand by. Darren Pratley may play a part too. Mainly because the opposition players look at his speed of movement, believe that they are part of a slow motion replay and act accordingly.
The man who could and should make a difference is Chris Eagles. The ex-Burnley and Manchester United man too often goes missing. But on his day, and at this level, he is the most creative player the Wanderers have available.
Bolton fans have answered the call to arms that came from various quarters including this one. All areas of the Reebok have limited availability and some are sold out.
It won’t be easy. It will be tense. It can be done. Game on.
– Richard McCormick