Ian Holloway's Tangerines can start dreaming of Wembley again. The margin they take into Wednesday's return leg of this play-off semi-final at St Andrew's is slim, though Blackpool's manager can be encouraged by their second-half display.
"It was a fantastic performance," said Holloway. "Obviously I would prefer to be more ahead because it's going to be one heck of a massive game for us. But all I asked was [the team] to give me a performance, play under pressure and I thought we were absolutely terrific."
Boosted by what proved a fortunate winner just before the break, the home side allowed Birmingham City little chance of squaring proceedings. Chris Hughton's men need more of their opening-half display and less of the second if they are to progress to Wembley.
"I thought that Blackpool were good on the ball which you very much expect here, you know they're going to have good possession," said Hughton. "We needed to be better on the ball than we were.
"The ironic thing is that they had perhaps a couple of very good chances, we had arguably the best of the game through Marlon King right at the death [when he hit the post] and it's a very fortuitous goal that settles it: a shot that's going wide that takes a wicked deflection. We're still very much in it. We need to be better and, if we are, that puts us in with a great chance."
This second match of the four-club, five-game tournament to win the golden ticket to the Premier League began amid a wall of sound created by the travelling fans. They sang for Hughton, who stood on the opposite touchline and watched as his team produced the standout moments of the opening half-hour. Blackpool also had their say and it was the home fans who ended the first half delirious after Thomas Ince's deflected strike in the 45th minute gave them the lead.
In Chris Burke the visitors had a wide operator whose pace and muscle down the right carried the most potent threat until, much like his side, he suffered a second- half fade. Stephen Crainey, the Blackpool left-back, was unable to handle Burke. One jet-heeled run and barge left him trailing before the winger pinged in a cross that Wade Elliott nodded down and Nathan Redmond blazed over.
Elliott, who scored Burnley's winner in the Championship play-off final three years ago, had seen his own delivery from the right headed wide by Curtis Davies, who would end the half in despair: his boot turned Ince's effort beyond Colin Doyle for the Tangerine congregation to start partying just when it seemed the first half would end goalless.
Hughton has continued to impress with his work at Birmingham following his premature dismissal by Newcastle United last season. Last summer two of his more seasoned players left for this parish – Barry Ferguson, now Holloway's captain, and Kevin Phillips, who started on the bench – but Hughton's ability to thread together results on a shoestring had ended the campaign with a nine-game unbeaten surge that took them into the play-offs.
By the hour, though, it was Blackpool who had taken control. A Matt Phillips ball from the right found Gary Taylor-Fletcher and his attempt looked to have doubled the lead before Peter Ramage's block.
Birmingham were now suffering a creative deficit so Ince showed them the way forward. His quick feet and smooth movement bedazzled the visiting rearguard with a run into their area, and when he passed to Stephen Dobbie it deserved better than the No7's blast over the top.
Kevin Phillips replaced Taylor-Fletcher with a quarter of an hour remaining and almost instantly headed the ball home only for his effort to be correctly ruled out for offside. "Kev thought he was onside but he wasn't – I just looked at it," said Holloway. "I said to my wife I wasn't going to celebrate but I went absolutely doolally because I thought it was a goal.
"It's going to take every ounce of everything to go down there with their crowd and their passion. Can we impose ourselves at their ground in the biggest moment of our lives?"
It will be just as big for Birmingham, who, like Blackpool, are seeking an instant return to the top flight they departed a year ago. Both teams still have every chance.