As I write, it’s friday night. The calm before the storm. Tomorrow Blackpool head to Nottingham, and by 5:00pm will have just five games to go.
I reach for my wallet and pull out a small, laminated piece of paper. Something that every football addict is sad enough to carry with them at all times. Some carry it mentally, others have a physical hard copy. But we all have one. A fixture list.
And when I cast my eyes over it, searching for our next fixture, I’m shocked at how small the section of remaining games seems. Is that it? Is that all we have left before we enter yet another summer of football-less horror. I flip my credit card sized scrap of paper, hoping there is something more on the back – just a few more games maybe. There isn’t. This really is it. What a sobering thought.
Having spent the last few months just wishing the season would finish, I’m now sat wondering what I’m going to during that baron spell. But thankfully (or not) there is still a bit of a way to go yet until we can start contemplating the summer. 5 games may not sound like much, but with 450 minutes of nail-biting football left to play and 15 points still up for grabs, anything could happen between now and May 4th.
Following a disappointing result at Ewood Park, I wasn’t alone in thinking we were heading for a bit of trouble. With Crystal Palace at home and then a trip to Nottingham Forest, things weren’t looking good. And during the half time break on Easter Monday, I found myself talking about life in the bottom 3. With every team below us picking up points regularly, and us down to 10 men against Palace, it didn’t seem pessimistic to be considering what we needed to do in order to escape the trap door.
But somehow, against all the odds, the players in Tangerine produced the goods with a fantastic second half performance. We all witnessed it, and all expected it to go wrong at some point, but they defended brilliantly and always looked dangerous on the counter. Somebody obviously sent a much needed memo round the dressing room telling everyone that we were precariously close to relegation. The players finally got the message that if they wanted to stay in this division, they’d have to put in the effort and grind out some results. After weeks of lacklustre performances where everybody was waiting for somebody else to produce something, the players showed real heart, real desire and, eventually, real quality to bag 3 points which proved to be priceless.
No matter how important those points turn out to be, it was surely the performance that gave us fans the most to smile about. There was a feeling that a corner had been turned. The light had been switched on and the players woke up to the fact that they needed to pull together and start fighting for survival.
In fact, the result against the Eagles has buoyed everyone so much, that there are suggestions that we’ll head to Nottingham and come away with a result. And I have to agree. Not just because of Monday’s display, but because I always fancy us more against better teams. I don’t know what it is, and I’m sure most fans feel the same way about their club. Whenever you are due to play a relegation threatened, down-on-their-luck bunch of total misfits, you always fear the worst and expect to come away with nothing. Yet, although you don’t always expect a win, when you come up against a high-flying side, for some reason you sense an upset. It’s one of the great paradoxical paranoias of a football fan, and it is something that is keeping me feeling upbeat heading into tomorrow.
For the first time this season it looks like we might have our two star wingers in good form, at the same time – something which I thought would see us promoted, but which could now happen just in time to see us to safety. With the defence coping well under the new manager and looking as tight as it has for a long time, we now have a platform to build upon. Apparently Blackpool have the second best defensive record in the league since Ince arrived, and although I felt a shudder of disgust when he said “1-0 is the best result for me”, I do feel a lot more comfortable when we have to defend a corner, or a free-kick or, well, anything really. In short, we look solid at the back and it is something we really, really needed.
I genuinely feel that we could leave the City Ground with a point tomorrow, and then head into the final 5 games just needing another win and possibly a draw to secure our Championship status. With Burnley, Sheffield Wednesday and Derby to visit Bloomfield Road, we have a real possibility of getting enough points at home without needing to worry about our away days. Brighton and Bolton will be tricky places to collect any points, and if it was to come down to Bolton away, with Blackpool needing something to stay up, I’m not sure I could take it. Another season going down to the last day; it’s just too stressful.
On a positive note though, I don’t think it will come down to Bolton. I think we now have enough momentum to see us over the line, even if we do get there limping, battered and bruised, with nothing more than 50-odd points and a bobbly pitch. Yes, I reckon we will do it, and we will hopefully look back and wonder what on earth we were all so worried about.
Like I said though, as I write, it’s Friday evening, so by this time tomorrow everything I’ve said could seem like complete and utter nonsense. Some things never change…