It was a game which Manchester United just wanted to get over with so that they could celebrate their spoils of the Premier League season, pay tribute to a certain Old Trafford legend, Edwin Van Der Sar and move on to preparing for their Wembley opponents next Saturday, Barcelona. For Blackpool, however, it was their most important game of the season, fighting to stay another season in the Premier League and everyone but the United supporters and the supporters of Blackpool’s fellow relegation strugglers were hoping they would make the cut. In a week in which Ian had hit out at critics of himself and more that of Sir Alex regarding the FA’s decisions over fining teams who fielded ‘weakened’ sides, the only real change in Sir Alex’s side which was irregular was Dimitar Berbatov getting a start. And with 20 goals this season, not many would call it a change that ‘weakened’ the side.
Blackpool nearly scored the quickest goal of the entire season with Charlie Adam pulling one back only for the shot to be fired wide of goal. It was a very entertaining start to the game with the players in Red trying to prove that each of them deserved to start every game, with none less than Berbatov who demonstrated excellent control in the box, but then side-footed his shot to draw an excellent save from Gilks. Gilks seemed to be having a wonderful game, having saved a Rfael shot from the edge of the box earlier in the game. Berbatov seemed to be popping up all over the ground, switching to the left with Park Ji Sung coming inside as well as popping up with defensive headers in his own box. And it was Berbatov who provided a beautiful ball in from the left for Park Ji Sung to run on to the ball from the centre and prod it home into the Blackpool net to make it 1-0 in favour of the Devils. Berbatov almost made good of a horrendous mix-up in the Blackpool defence in the 31st minute, but saw his shot again saved excellently by Gilks. Park Ji Sung went down in the box as he got on the rebound ball but penalty appeals were waved away by Mike Dean. The signs were ominous for Blackpool. It was time for a bit of controversy in the 40th minute as Mike Dean chose to ignore an offside flag from his assistant to award a free kick to Blackpool on the edge of United’s box. Charlie Adam stepped up and proved his worth as he curled a beautiful one to the left of the wall and into the left corner of Van der Sar’s goal to give the seasiders a glimmer of hope at 1-1. It was the first goal that an opposing team had scored at Old Trafford all season. Blackpool went into the break, hoping that other results would stay as they were, with Blackburn pushing Wolves below Blacpool.
It was a good start to the second half for Blackpool with Vidic bringing down D J Campbell at the edge of the box once again. Charlie Adam stuck another brilliant free kick to the side of the wall and Van der Sar had to punch it away to keep the scores level. United had chances of their own with Berbatov heading over the bar from a corner in the 55th minute. Soon, there were joyful moments for the visiting crowd as Blackpool had a lovely move result in a goal from Taylor Fletcher after the referee had allowed advantage when Vaughan had been fouled in the build-up.The assistant referee failing to spot that Taylor Fletcher was offside seemed to be of little concern to Manchester United, having already wrapped up the title and they went about their business without many complaints. And it paid off as Anderson curled the ball into the back of the net from a Park Ji Sung ball to again level the scores at 2-2. Soon after, Gilks was once again the hero for Blackpool as he made a reaction save off the line from a Berbatov header which seemed destined for goal and the Paul Scholes shot from the rebound was blocked. Blackpool were thankful they didn’t go behind in the 72nd minute as a Nani free kick lay-off to Paul Scholes started a move that saw United pepper the Blackpool goal from left, right and centre. Immediately after, Nani miscued his header in front of goal to send the ball rolling wide. In the 74thminute, Blackpool found themselves right back in the relegation zone as a Chris Smalling cross was deflected into the back of his own net by Evatt, wide of a helpless Gilks. Evatt nearly compensated for his mistake in the 78th minute as he nearly scored, only for the advancing Van der Sar to pull off a fine save. Michael Owen all but sealed Blackpool’s fate in the 81st minute, beating the offside trap and then curling the ball around the keeper into the back of the net to make it 4-2 to United. Berbatov was at it again and shot way over the bar after having wonderfully controlled a forward ball from Nani. United escaped a penalty claim from Blackpool when the ball struck Anderson’s hand with the referee perhaps unsighted. In the 1st minute of added time, a mistake from Gilkssaw Michael Owen get on the ball, but the angle was too narrow and he could only fire it across the line. Berbatov got another chance to become the lone leading scorer of the season but fired his shot wide and over in what was turning out to be a flatter-to-deceive display. Charlie Adam nearly did his reputation further good but his shot was brilliantly palmed away by Van der Sar. And further pressure saw Varney hit the edge of the crossbar. But, in the end, it was too little, too late as Blackpool lost 4-2 and were relegated to the Championship.
It was a disappointing end to Blackpool’s brave season, but one couldn’t help but feel for Ian Halloway as he had made the most of his limited finances to put up impressive and entertaining displays in a season which saw them beat Liverpool home and away. However, with Charlie Adam in sight of many big clubs, including Manchester United, the future looks bleak for Blackpool. But, if there is one man you can count on to fight against the odds and make it back into the Premier League, it’s Ian Halloway. Championship, better watch out!
On the other side of the stadium were the jubilant Manchester United who received their well-deserved Premier League trophy and held it aloft to the Old Trafford faithful to once again prove that only a fool or a critic would write off a team managed by a true legend, Sir Alex Ferguson. He will, however, be hungry for more as always and will be asking for one final triumph this season at Wembley. Could it be the Double for, in Van der Sar’s words, the Greatest club in the world? The answer’s coming your way, this Saturday!