Millwall withstand late siege to maintain early promotion form in the Championship while Blackpool remain pointless
Ian Holloway hardly knew what to feel after Millwall scrambled home 2-1 at The Den, leaving his former club Blackpool still pointless in the Championship. He said in advance he wanted to go into the international break with 10 points and so his side do in fifth place. But they had to withstand a late siege of their own making plus Blackpool’s spirit. “I would have been fuming had they equalised,” he said.
They nearly did. “We got ourselves into a great situation with a brilliant goal but we’ve got to learn to manage the game,” he said. “We conceded the most bizarre goal. Our centre-half came up for a throw and then we don’t aim it at him. How stupid is that?” Millwall, two up, were caught out and Nile Ranger scored with a quarter of the game to go. Blackpool lumped it long, Holloway sacrificed his promising midfielder Jack Powell for a third centre-back and the Lions looked as comfortable as Louis van Gaal’s lot. Luckily for Millwall Stanley Matthews was not on the bench.
Blackpool’s personnel problems are familiar: 27 players including Barry Ferguson, the manager, leaving after last season; José Riga, fresh from saving Charlton, finding six on arrival in June; 12 coming in 12 days, though Tangerines do not grow in Lancashire hedgerows; the goalkeeper Joe Lewis loaned from Cardiff four days before the first game at Nottingham Forest. It was no way to start a nine-month campaign, regardless of last season’s precarious survival. Four seasons ago, thanks to Holloway, Blackpool were in the Premier League. Now they are in shambles.
The relationship between fans and the chairman, Karl Oyston, whose family have held sway for 26 years, is said by Tim Fielding, of the Supporters’ Trust, to be “at its lowest ebb”. They wonder where the £100m from parachute payments and transfer fees has gone and note the dilapidated state of the ground compared with Oyston’s hotel. The chairman returned from holiday to tell the manager “I don’t think the air of negativity is helping”, but the appearance is that the Tangerines have been squeezed until the pips squeak; both Phillips, Kevin and Matt, are among those from Holloway’s success to have left. The fans are behind Team Riga, as they call it, but Riga mortis may be close. They numbered 445 here and no mascot. Millwall helped out with a second lion.
Holloway said in relief that Blackpool “have a lot of good players and a great spirit” – something he values highly and has a knack of creating. He said beforehand, “I believe in all my players and in the way we’re trying to play,” and it showed in confidence and enjoyment. Lee Martin, wide and forward, has surely never looked so eager, swapping wings with the equally willing Martyn Woolford. Scott McDonald, in midfield, could not have enough of the ball and used it to consistent effect – “as good as he was for Celtic,” said Holloway. And Carlos Edwards, poised in defence with astute overlaps at right-back, practically matched by Scott Malone on the left, was invaluable in the tense closing stages.
Inside a quarter-hour Edwards, slipped clear by Woolford, crossed for Malone to put a far-post sitter wide. Shortly after the interval Malone atoned in an identical situation as McDonald centred. Between times, as everyone looked set for a lineout, Powell played a free-kick square to his scrum-half, as it were, and McDonald swept it in. “It unlocked the door,” Holloway said. “We tried it 50 times on the training ground and scored once.”
He is back to his ebullient best, quirky but honest as ever. He took a year off in 2008-09, taking stock literally in a self-sufficiency kick that saw him arrive at Blackpool with chickens, horses and ducks, to which the groundsman added seven turkeys. Holloway left them on the bench, enjoyed the best days of his managerial life but, having failed in a second play-off final, departed in October saying he had lost his “jiggle”, though possibly faith in Oyston. He caught up with it at Crystal Palace, guiding them to the Premier League at the first attempt, but was exhausted by the influx of players to keep them in it and had two months out.
He picked up Millwall in 21st place in January, made sure of safety on the last day and reduced his squad by eight for this season. Seeing wood for trees, he said: “We have so many people showing how good they are. We’ve got jinkers and twisters but not a 40-yard galloper. I’m not sure if Fred is one or the other.” Luiz Felipe Scolari wondered the same, though this one is Onyedinma. “This club is the epitome of a sea of emotion,” said the manager, summing up. The Holloway Road is never dull.