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Manchester United lift the EPL trophy as Blackpool are relegated

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Manchester United 4 – 2 Blackpool

By the time the final blow was delivered the celebrations of Manchester United's supporters were almost apologetic. For Blackpool there would be no feat of escapology, no last-day euphoria. They have enriched the football season but their nerve deserted them just when they needed it most.

It was a brutal, desperately cruel way to go. At one point they led 2-1 and were on the verge of becoming the first side to beat the champions at Old Trafford this season. The problem was that when Gary Taylor-Fletcher turned the ball past Edwin van der Sar, there was still over half an hour to play – and it was then that everything started to go horribly wrong.


Anderson's left-foot shot to make it 2-2 six minutes later seemed to drain Ian Holloway's men of their self-belief. They lost their shape and, perhaps more dangerously, their direction. What followed was a harsh lesson in why a team that had defied expectation even to reach this far could not clamber over the line.


After 74 minutes Ian Evatt turned an innocuous cross into his own net and suddenly the game was turned upside down and the men in tangerine were on their knees. Shortly afterwards Michael Owen ran clear to score a goal that was probably his farewell to Old Trafford. For Blackpool the death knell had sounded. As Holloway put it: "She [the fat lady] has put down the microphone, she's finishing singing and I don't like the tune. It's devastating."


It was typical Blackpool, toying with their supporters' emotions, illuminating this match with their open, expansive football, yet generous in the extreme and, ultimately, paying the price for it. "They had me believing," Holloway said. "Until they scored the fourth, I was still believing." Even then Blackpool struck the crossbar and created several other opportunities. They can, in short, take enormous dignity in defeat and there was rich applause from the home crowd as they left the pitch.


But this was also a missed opportunity because Blackpool had been fortunate, undoubtedly, to come across United at a time when Sir Alex Ferguson's men had next weekend's Champions League final uppermost in their thoughts.


This was still a team including United's player of the year, Nani, their leading scorer, Dimitar Berbatov, and one of the game's greatest goalkeepers, Van der Sar, playing his final game at Old Trafford to great acclaim (including a full-on bow from Patrice Evra after one save). Yet the pain for Blackpool was made considerably worse by having done the hard work to recover from the moment, 21 minutes into the first half, when Berbatov's pass, coupled with some poor defending from the luckless Evatt, left Park Ji-sung clear to score the opening goal.


Charlie Adam equalised straight from a free-kick, curling the ball past a badly organised defensive wall and in off a post, and an example followed of why Blackpool have bewitched the Premier League at times. Their second goal was the culmination of a wonderful exchange of passing, the excellent David Vaughan and Jason Puncheon both prominently involved before Taylor-Fletcher flicked the ball past Van der Sar. Not many sides come to Old Trafford and carve open their opponents like that.


But Blackpool were too open, too adventurous, with not enough know-how. They were also facing a side looking to establish a new club record of having dropped only two points at home all season and who, to give them their due, did not want to face any accusations of slacking off. United simply dusted themselves down and then set about the task of re-establishing control.


Until that point Blackpool had been blessed with some of the good fortune needed for last-day dramas. They had survived a couple of penalty appeals and Berbatov had missed enough chances to ensure he has to share the title of Premier League top scorer with Carlos Tevez.


United were unhappy, too, about the award of the free-kick from which Adam equalised, when Nemanja Vidic had brought down Taylor-Fletcher. But, if Blackpool benefited from some good luck in the opening hour, it deserted them once Anderson swapped passes with Patrice Evra and beat the goalkeeper, Matthew Gilks, with a curling, diagonal shot.


It was difficult in particular not to sympathise with Evatt after the freakish manner in which he diverted the substitute Chris Smalling's low centre past Gilks. Owen's goal, a smart, clipped finish after Anderson's through-ball, ended the arguments.


For United, there were some jubilant scenes to come, with the presentation of the Premier League trophy, preceded by some Oscars-style acceptance speeches from Ferguson and Van der Sar. For Blackpool the adventure is over and it will scarcely ease the hurt that they will be missed.


 From: The Guardian

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