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Magnificent Blackpool take their place in the Premiership

The most valuable game in professional football. 90 minutes that can make or break a club. With a place in the Premiership worth £90m at stake, one might have expected a tight, nervy game. Within 15 minutes, this had been proved spectacularly wrong.

Under the scorching sun at Wembley, Blackpool and Cardiff put on a footballing spectacle. Much of the talk ahead of the game was whether the big name players would turn up – Peter Whittingham and Michael Chopra for Cardiff, and record signing Charlie Adam for Blackpool. Whittingham has surprised people to become the league’s top scorer with 20 goals; Michael Chopra has chipped in with 16, whilst Charlie Adam also has 16.

The action kicked off almost instantly as Cardiff’s two stars combined excellently – Whittingham’s cross from the left was flicked onto the bar by Michael Chopra. Only five minutes later, the pair combined again, but this time, Chopra drilled the ball perfectly past Matt Gilks to give Cardiff an early lead. However, never count Blackpool out. Having come from behind on the last day of the season to secure their playoff spot, and in both legs of the semi-final, it was no surprise that they came back strongly. Stephen McPhail gave away the free-kick, and Charlie Adam, signed for a club-record £500k last summer, curled a magnificent strike into the top corner. Any player would have been proud of an effort like that.

Blackpool continued to press forward; Cardiff being forced to repel wave after wave of Tangerine attacks. However, it was Cardiff who grabbed the next goal – Joe Ledley playing the one-two with Peter Whittingham and keeping his cool to lift the ball over Matt Gilks to give the Bluebirds the lead once again. But yet again, there was no holding Blackpool back. They swarmed forward yet again; Gary Taylor-Fletcher hitting the post with a cracking volley after some nice passing from Blackpool. From the resulting corner, Ian Evatt’s shot was cleared off the line by Mark Kennedy, but Gary Taylor-Fletcher was on hand to nod home. Only 3 minutes had passed between the two goals.

The first half still had more to give. On the stroke of half time, good work by DJ Campbell on the edge of the box created some space, and although he mishit his shot, it fell for Brett Ormerod to poke under Marshall to give Blackpool the lead for the first time. Nine years ago, Brett Ormerod scored in a playoff final to lift Blackpool out of the bottom tier of English football, and it looked as though he might have done the same again.

The second half began in the sweltering heat, with the pitch-side thermometer showing temperatures in excess of 106°F. Blackpool suffered a set-back when Gary Taylor-Fletcher limped off within 5 minutes of the restart, but the game seemed to have settled back in the previous pattern. A high tempo open game hinted at more goals, but they were not to come. Despite the lack of goals, the half was no less absorbing. Cardiff, knowing they needed to score, pressed forward with Blackpool content to play on the break.

They created chances with Michael Chopra hitting the bar, Joe Ledley flicking a header just wide, Ross McCormack putting his shot wide and Joe Ledley being prevented again by Matt Gilks. Gilks had a nervous moment when he lost a cross, but watched the ball trickle wide of his left hand post. Ian Evatt and Alex Baptiste, who was relegated from the football league with Mansfield only 2 years ago, were both magnificent, winning countless headers and tackles.

As the final whistle was blown, the Blackpool players celebrated with their fans and manager, whilst the dejected Cardiff players collapsed to the turf. Ian Holloway’s transformation was complete. Formerly regarded as a bit of a comedy sideshow, he went away for a year, and returned a more serious manager with a new style. Inspired by Roberto Martinez’s Swansea last year, Blackpool play with an open, passing style, reminiscent of the Dutch total football. Whether they will be able to stay in the Premiership is another question, but for now, Blackpool will celebrate, as they should.

Ian Holloway has built a team of loan players and lower league journeymen, with an overall wage budget of only £4.8m – less than John Terry earns. Their average attendance is below 10k, and Bloomfield Road’s East Stand is a temporary construction. However, tonight, none of this will matter to the 35k Blackpool fans, the players, management and owner, Valeri Belokon. After 90 minutes of enthralling football, the Tangerines are now £90m richer and will look forward to taking their place at English football’s top table next season.

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