IT would be completely understandable if Ian Holloway was still sore about his six-month spell in charge at Leicester. And it would be just as understandable if he was a little annoyed at the direction in which Blackpool’s season has gone since the turn of the year.
To the surprise of many, Holloway’s Blackpool have spent much of the season in the Championship play-off race. They occupied a top-six position as recently as two weeks ago, after scoring in the 89th and 91st minutes to beat Watford 3-2. But the longer the race goes on, the harder it gets. And that seems to be taking its toll on manager, players and fans alike.
Holloway was unhappy that a section of the Bloomfield Road faithful singled out Jason Euell for abuse during a 2-1 home defeat by Sheffield Wednesday last month. After that game, Wednesday boss Alan Irvine bumped into Blackpool’s public address announcer and told him: “It’s not so easy without your 12th man, is it?”
The announcer decided to recount this story to the crowd before the Watford game a few days later, and it seemed to do the trick. But Bloomfield Road is not the fortress it was early in the season. Blackpool were unbeaten there until the start of December, beating Wigan, Newcastle and Sheffield United along the way. But since losing that record to Barnsley three weeks before Christmas, Blackpool have won just once at home.
It doesn’t help that the Armfield Stand is still not finished. The stand was due to open in plenty of time for Christmas. Instead, it stands empty behind the goal, doing nothing for the atmosphere. No one seems to know for certain when the stand will open. Holloway certainly doesn’t.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t think that’s helping us at all. I really don’t. I think if that was open, and we got some more fans in here, we might get a lot more decisions as well – if it was a bit noisier.”
Refereeing decisions are another sore point with Holloway. His team were narrowly beaten by West Brom on Wednesday thanks to a contentious penalty awarded at the Armfield Stand end. Defeat left Holloway really needing a win today against Leicester, a team with play-off ambitions of their own.
Leicester are on the way back after Holloway’s calamitous six-month stint in charge there, which ended the spring before last with the club somehow getting relegated to League One for the first time in their history. Under Nigel Pearson, the Foxes ran away with the division last season, and now – like Blackpool – have a play-off shout.
The Holloway factor was presumably the reason that the BBC chose this as the featured game for tonight’s Football League Show. But Bloomfield Road isn’t that well-equipped for full-scale TV crews. A wood and scaffolding TV gantry peers over the top of what used to be the East Paddock – now an uncovered temporary stand for away fans. But this gantry isn’t really big enough.
And so after two cameras had somehow squeezed on to it, there was not enough space alongside them for commentator Martin Fisher to sit. As a result, he had to perch at the back of the gantry and try to peer over the top of the cameras, like a cinemagoer who has found himself stuck behind the world’s tallest couple.
It’s unlikely that Fisher could see more than about 30 per cent of the pitch from his position. As the ball moved from one part of the field to another, the poor man could be seen ducking, bobbing and weaving his head behind the cameras, trying to see something to describe. Hope his TV monitor was working.
A shame for him, because it was a cracking match. Both sides could have had a goal before Leicester did score in the 15th minute. First, Leicester’s top scorer Matty Fryatt raced on to Matt Oakley’s long throw and fired a shot against keeper Matt Gilks’ legs. At the other end, Stephen Dobbie saw his shot tipped on to the bar by Leicester’s Chris Weale. It set the tone for the afternoon.
Dany N’Guessan gave Leicester the lead, beating the offside trap to take on Martyn Waghorn’s crossfield pass and drill a shot into the net via the far post. A happy moment for N’Guessan, who probably wouldn’t have started the match but for the fact that Leicester’s former Blackpool midfielder Richie Wellens was serving a one-match ban.
It was 1-0 at half-time, but could easily have been 3-3. Blackpool had plenty of pressure, but Leicester always looked capable of hurting them on the counter-attack. Weale made another two fine saves to keep out Dobbie, while Gilks was alert to keep out Andy King’s long-ranger.
And then Fryatt, a yard from goal, somehow fired a shot straight at defender Alex Baptiste on the line after Blackpool had defended a Waghorn corner in a state of blind panic.
After the break, Weale continued to frustrate Dobbie and Keith Southern, among others, while Gilks made a point-blank save from Waghorn.
With 15 minutes to go, Holloway decided to gamble by taking off central defender Ian Evatt and sending on midfielder Ishmel Demontagnac with a set of tactical instructions for his team-mates to change to a more attacking set-up – albeit one that still left some defensive cover.
Unfortunately for Blackpool, the message got lost somewhere. Within three minutes, Lloyd Dyer had tapped in Fryatt’s cross and Leicester were all set for their first league win of 2010. Holloway was livid, in a way that only Holloway can be.
“I’m reading the Battle of Agincourt at the minute,” he said afterwards. “What happened was that the English had a strategy, the French didn’t.”
Confused? The Battle of Agincourt was the match, the English were Leicester, the French were Blackpool. Leicester’s strategy overcame Blackpool’s supposedly more powerful force and won against the odds. Presumably that means Pearson is Henry V and Holloway is Charles d’Albret.
“Now what happened when I made that change totally bamboozled me, because that wasn’t the information I gave them,” Holloway continued.
“I’ve just ripped a strip off every one of them, particularly the one I put on, because he didn’t pass on the message.”
Even so, Blackpool might still have got a point. With less than two minutes to go, they pulled one back through on-loan Swansea striker Dobbie, who almost had to pull out of the match because his wife Susanne is due to give birth to their first child. Dobbie certainly seems to be thriving on the chaos, as he’s scored two goals in two games for Blackpool now.
As time ran out, Blackpool captain Charlie Adam was screaming for a penalty after N’Guessan appeared to catch him in the area. Referee Andy Haines instead booking Adam for diving. It was the midfielder’s 10th yellow card of the season, which means a two-match ban. They’ll miss him.
Not a good day for Holloway all round, then. The Leicester fans seemed to enjoy his suffering.
“They’re calling me all sorts of things, the Leicester fans,” he said. “I hope you’re happy on the way home. Well down to you.
“You might well challenge for promotion this year if you win your two games in hand. If.”
Ah yes, if. As Pearson said afterwards: “If Blackpool could defend in the same way they attack, I’m sure they’d be top of the league.”