By the time the final whistle went at Old Trafford, the retreating sun was bisecting the pitch along the halfway line. Blackpool's defence was in shadow, their attack still bathed in late-afternoon sunshine. Just like their season, and just like their final contribution to a campaign in which they earned admiration for the way they went about achieving their 10 proud victories while undermining their own efforts by conceding 78 goals, the Premier League's worst record by a distance.

Ian Evatt was the last of the relegated squad to leave the pitch, with the sound of his own name ringing in his ears at the end of his 149th league match for the club. The travelling Blackpool fans were attempting to console their centre-back, and to lighten the burden imposed by the touch with which he had inadvertently diverted the ball past his own goalkeeper to give Manchester United a 3-2 lead in the 74th minute.

In a sense, it was a blessing that Michael Owen nipped in seven minutes later to meet Anderson's pass and clip the ball neatly past Matthew Gilks. Owen's opportunism – an echo of his former greatness – meant that Evatt's goal immediately lost some of its awful significance.

The way events were to unfold at White Hart Lane, the Britannia Stadium and Molineux, even a 2-2 draw would not have been enough to salvage Blackpool's place in the top tier. Goal difference would have condemned them.

Evatt, however, is one of a group of Blackpool players who learnt before the match that the options on their contracts are being picked up, at Championship rates of pay – about 50% of their earnings this season. Others in that position include Gary Taylor-Fletcher, the scorer of Blackpool's finely worked second goal on Sunday, and Keith Southern, who could have put them ahead within 25 seconds of the kick-off.

Ian Holloway made no bones about it. The squad with which he took Blackpool into the top flight for the first time in 40 years, and which provided English football with a great deal of entertainment during their solitary season in the spotlight, is now about to break up.

League regulations meant that he had to tell them last week who would be staying and who would be going. "Common sense should have dictated that in the week of the biggest game of my life, I should have been able to tell them afterwards," he said. Financial considerations mean that Brett Ormerod and Richard Kingson, the reserve goalkeeper, are on their way out of the club, and those who are out of contract, he said, are unlikely to be interested in offers of reduced money.

"David Vaughan, Stephen Crainey, Matthew Gilks – I don't think they'll want to stay, because I think they can get better contracts at a higher level. And what about Charlie Adam? If we'd won today, I might have been able to offer Charlie a new contract and persuade him to stay. What's going to happen with him?"

We think we know the answer to that one. Even had Blackpool preserved their status, the 25-year-old playmaker would almost certainly have been on his way to a leading club, most probably Liverpool. On Sunday his quick thinking and accurate cut‑back produced that first‑minute chance for Southern, and he left the Seasiders' fans with the memory of a superlative free‑kick, curling his 25-yard effort away from Edwin van der Sar's hands and inside the goalkeeper's left-hand post to bring the scores level five minutes before half‑time against the club he supported in boyhood.

At his best, Adam can remind you that it was his Scottish ancestors who transformed football from a kick-and-rush melee into a game based on passing the ball. A member of a species long thought extinct, there is something in him of the underrated Dutch genius Wim van Hanegem, who could pick locks with his left foot, of the elegant, supremely precise Jim Baxter (although none of Baxter's less appealing baggage), and of the young John Robertson, who chipped and dinked the ball from the central areas of the pitch before Brian Clough transformed him into a winger.

Adam is a player you would pay to see, at least in the setting provided by Holloway. It remains to be seen, if he starts next season at Anfield, whether he will turn out to be a Graeme Souness or an Alberto Aquilani. But his goals this season, and his ability to design the game, will have left many priceless memories for the fans in tangerine shirts.

According to Holloway, several of the squad deserve to be commemorated with the kind of statue that the club unveiled to honour Jimmy Armfield this year. A pardonable exaggeration, but the supporters of every Premier League club should be grateful for the presence, however brief, of a group of players who put creativity first, and of a manager who proved a fount of quotable wisdom, even as he regarded the struggle ahead.

"Our castle was made of sand," the admirable Holloway said in conclusion on Sunday. "But there's concrete underneath."