Paul Ince's latest stab at becoming a successful manager ended in defeat on Wednesday night as his new club, Blackpool, went down 2-0 to Leeds United.
A fixture graced a year ago by Jonjo Shelvey's hat-trick for them when on loan from Liverpool was this time an intriguing clash that had Ince selecting his son, Thomas, for a second time in his career following their spells at Notts County two seasons ago. Late on Blackpool's Alex Baptiste steered wide but it was Neil Warnock's side who made up three points on sixth-placed Middlesbrough.
This left Blackpool 11 from a play-off position and Ince striking a realistic note. "I'm not saying we forget the play-offs but our most important thing is to get to 50 points, then build from there," he said. "It's probably the hardest league in Europe to get out of. Obviously it would have been nice to start with a win but this last week I was sitting in me lounge walking my dog in me garden."
This was Ince's sixth jump on to the managerial merry-go round after previous stops at Macclesfield Town, MK Dons (twice), Blackburn Rovers and Notts County, from where he departed "by mutual consent" in April 2011 having lost five games on the bounce.
The Blackpool website stated that the former England midfielder has spent the last 14 months watching the club where his son signed on in the summer of 2011 from Liverpool and to where he came close to returning in last month's transfer window before money, not unusually, became a sticking point.
To Ince Sr's CV – which includes the blue-chip clubs of Manchester United, Internazionale and Liverpool in his playing days – was now added Blackpool, whom he referred to as "we" in discussing last season's 5-0 rout here beforehand.
The opening half of Ince's tenure featured him standing in an expensive looking overcoat as his team held their own against Warnock's side, though there were lean pickings in the chances created column. Ince Jr, Blackpool's top scorer with 17 in the league, dipped one corner into a crowd of players in front of Paddy Kenny's goal and, when the ball broke back to the winger, an attempt to smash goalwards was blocked. Matt Phillips, operating on the opposite left flank, tested Kenny from close range on the angle but the goalkeeper beat the ball out.
It was from precisely this position that Leeds' lone striker, Steve Morison, forced Matthew Gilks to save before the rebound evaded an onrushing Ross McCormack. Later David Norris made Gilks use his feet to keep the score goalless and, when play broke, Ince showed why Liverpool – and United – have shown an interest. The 21-year-old slipped smoothly into too high a gear for the trailing home midfield as he swept effortlessly to the left byline before playing in a ball that begged to be finished.
His father said: "Yeah, he's a good player, he's shown that throughout this season. He's very good at this level and we had some chances: I think we can't always rely on Thomas. Other people have to contribute to scoring goals."
Norris's goal came after a McCormack corner broke to him and he unloaded a bullet of a shot which gave Gilks no chance. Morison, a January signing from Norwich City who Warnock claimed would become a "legend" at Leeds, then profited from Baptiste's error. The Blackpool captain inadvertently passed the ball straight to the No9 and he belted it beyond Gilks.
Warnock has publicly stated that, if Leeds are not promoted, he will no longer be at the club. Does that mean he will retire from football completely? "No, I don't think so," he said. "I do fancy [a role] helping a younger manager out. I don't think there's much liaison between a board of directors and managers. So I'll still keep my hand in and probably come out every January until May to keep a team up, like a Red Adair of football."
Ince is not yet involved in a firefight at Blackpool but he knows there is work to do. "We're not structured. You can see that," he said. "We've still got that gung-ho mentality where we feel if they score one, we're going to score two. That's not something that's right. It'll take time."