Holloway Will Draw Upon His Blackpool Days To Help Keep Palace Up


Ian Holloway photoThere is no doubt that Crystal Palace will receive an overwhelming amount of support from the Premier League’s neutrals next season purely down to their wacky, entertaining and quite fantastic manager, Ian Holloway.

The 50-year-old is depicted as a bit of a caricature for his compelling personality which is rare to see in the modern game we love and cherish so much. But as powerful as that image of Holloway comes across, he is also a serious football manager that gets serious results against the odds.

A steely and bullish determination to win is the nucleus of how he wants his teams to operate when usually dubbed as ‘underdogs’ by those who judge. The greatest examples of Holloway’s magic from the dugout come in his recent three-year stint with Blackpool, in which he masterminded two play-off finals on a shoestring budget.

Holloway and Blackpool were already having a good season in the 2009/10 format of the Championship, but he managed to galvanise his side in the remaining eight games of the season, winning six, to gatecrash the play-offs in unexpected but industrious fashion. Blackpool overcame Nottingham Forest 6-4 on aggregate in the semi-finals to reach to the showpiece event at Wembley and remain just one step away from the blissful promised land of the Premier League.

One of the greatest signings Holloway has made during his managerial career is undoubtedly Charlie Adam’s arrival from Rangers to Bloomfield Road in 2009. The 27-year-old scored 19 goals in all competitions to help Blackpool’s promotion cause and the Scotland international scored in the 3-2 play-off final win over Cardiff City and later became Holloway’s talisman in the Premier League.

The task of trying to avoid the drop zone in the most competitive league in the world, on the smallest budget in terms of transfers and wages a Premier League side has ever had to work with, would prove tough for both manager and club. The dream of securing safety kept going all the way to the final game of the season, a triumph in itself, but Blackpool were handed the worst possible scenario as they needed to win at Old Trafford to have any chance at fending off relegation.

They gave it their best shot, not just in the final game but all season, however what would have been one of the biggest surprises in English football if they’d have stayed up couldn’t be pulled off, as Blackpool were beaten 4-2 by Sir Alex Ferguson’s Red Devils and were submitted to relegation back to the second-tier of English football.

Key players such as, Adam, David Vaughan and DJ Campbell all left that summer so arguably, for Holloway to bounce straight back and deliver yet another play-off final with the tangerines, twinned with not seeing much of the money made from the Premier League off his chairman, Karl Oyston, was an even bigger achievement for him.

The magic was still there despite West Ham defeating Blackpool 2-1 in an enthralling end-to-end game at the national stadium and his Blackpool experience proved a testament to the style of management he embodies. The man nicknamed ‘Ollie’ works miracles in football and has continued to do so with Crystal Palace, a job that has many similarities to the one he oversaw at Blackpool in his three seasons as manager.

When the former QPR and Plymouth manager was approached by the Eagles to replace Dougie Freedman, who left to join Bolton mid-way through last season, Crystal Palace were high-flying in the Championship but they needed a manager with the right temperament for a play-off push – cue the arrival of Holloway.

After delivering two of them with Blackpool, Holloway’s Palace did slip further away from the automatic promotion places but his style of management suits your typical dark horse and the experience of knowing what it takes to get out of the play-offs proved vital, as it’s a completely different kettle of fish to the standard 46 games played in the Championship. Palace themselves were not long ago combating relegation and they needed a manager who understood that and knew how to lead a team that nobody expected to be in with a chance of success, rather than appointing a tried-and-tested coach who was looking for one last venture into the limelight.

Holloway’s side secured play-offs and academy superstar, Wilfried Zaha was pivotal to them making the final. The 20-year-old agreed to join Manchester United this summer in the January transfer window and scored two goals against Brighton as the perfect farewell gift to the club that he himself said he owed was delivered.

Not just because of the two goals he scored but the overall impact Zaha had on that particular game was reminiscent of DJ Campbell’s performance in Blackpool’s play-off semi-final win in their 2009/10 promotion. Holloway’s side won 4-3 at Nottingham Forest’s City Ground in the second leg of the tie and Campbell scored a hat-trick in an all-round stellar performance which took them to Wembley. Zaha was Holloway’s Campbell that night at the Amex Stadium but that wasn’t to be the last mark he’d make in a Palace shirt.

Watford were the only team standing in Palace’s way of returning to the Premier League and although they knocked on the door a few times, Gianfranco Zola’s men never had any real threat in what turned out to be a fantastic example of Holloway’s tactical acumen. The Hornets scored a whopping 85 league goals that season, yet were reduced to little opportunities that hurt Palace and Zaha proved to be decisive once more, winning a penalty in extra-time before Kevin Phillips stepped up and fired Palace to victory.

‘The play-off specialist’ wouldn’t be too wrong of a comparison to Holloway, after competing in three of the last four finals for two clubs respectively. How Palace got there and where they came from was comparable to Holloway’s Blackpool and next season in the top-flight will be no different, either.

Palace won’t have the greatest resources in the world but although Blackpool almost survived on small funds, clubs such as, Norwich and Swansea have recently managed to stabilise having not originally been blessed with wealth and in fact, they’re still not. Both clubs got promoted in the 2010/11 Championship season and are now preparing for their third successive year in the Premier League. It can be done, despite the doubters.

Some have already scoffed at Palace’s reported £4.5m outlay on Peterborough’s Dwight Gayle, claiming it’s an almighty gamble to take. But Holloway trusted in DJ Campbell’s abilities in the Premier League, who scored 13 goals as Blackpool finished a point, and a few goals, off surviving that year. Gayle scored 13 goals from January for the Posh last season and strikers such as, Rickie Lambert, James Rodriguez, Danny Graham and Grant Holt have all recently proved Championship strikers can make the step up to the Premier League and score goals. There is no reason why Gayle and the prolific Glenn Murray can’t score enough goals to keep Palace in the division next season.

They will need to invest more money of course, as that’s the way football is going. But good, attacking football can prevail, as Swansea and Southampton have proved, with Blackpool just missing out on becoming one of those example clubs.

Holloway will also ‘use’ his Blackpool experience to good cause with Palace. There were certain instances during their Premier League campaign when they had the lead and carried on attacking, when sometimes it would have been more apt to shut up shop and grind out a win although it’s deemed ‘ugly’.

In February 2011, Charlie Adam scored a header against Everton to put Blackpool 3-2 up away at Goodison Park. Instead of reverting to solidity, Blackpool still pushed forward in numbers and Everton cleverly picked them off and won the game 5-3. If Blackpool had of claimed those three points, or protected more leads in other games, they would have stayed up and that was the difference maker Holloway will learn from.

He will see the parallels of both clubs and draw upon that to give himself a better chance of keeping Palace up. He has an attacking squad at his disposal once more and may try the same approach of opting for depth rather than making one or two marquee signings like some clubs choose. Blackpool were a breath of fresh air in the Premier League and Palace have that same sort of air about them. They’ll be courageous, entertaining and fearless on the ball. A typical Holloway side and nobody will like travelling to Selhurst Park next season.

Holloway claimed big scalps with Blackpool such as, doing the double over Liverpool, beating Tottenham at home and winning away at Stoke. If he can replicate the same with Palace, and have in mind the importance of closing a game out when in a leading position, Holloway and Palace may well have a chance at survival next season. He meets the profile of an ‘against the odds’ type of manager and that will benefit Palace and their supporters. Blackpool gave him a great taste of what it’s like at the highest level but he will be more aware of what it takes to stay up and that’s only to Palace’s benefit.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here