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Sunday May 22 was a dramatic day in the Premier League as Blackpool fell through the relegation trap door after losing at Old Trafford and Wigan survived thanks to victory at Stoke. The great entertainers ultimately paid for their porous defence and will face a massive task in returning to the top flight in the near future.
Heading into the final day the Premier League table was incredibly close, with five sides being separated by just one point; meaning that there were 81 possible outcomes in terms of the league table.
Blackpool faced the seemingly impossible task of heading to Old Trafford, where the hosts were celebrating winning the league after the game. Ian Holloway’s tactical choices were arguably made easier as he knew that his side could win and go down and lose and stay up. In short, there was nothing to do but go out and try to win; a stance that had served Blackpool well throughout the season.
The Tangerines began the game strongly and created the first two half chances after clever play from Charlie Adam; playing what was almost certainly his final game for the club. However, the achilles heel all campaign has been the defence and Ian Evatt’s sloppy play allowed Park to put the hosts ahead against the run of play. However, Blackpool then showcased the resilience that has made them many friends during their one year stay in the Premier League. First Adam smashed home a fine free kick and Taylor-Fletcher finished sublimely to put Blackpool ahead after the break.
In what was an emotional rollercoaster of a day, Blackpool found themselves above the relegation zone despite a quick fire equalizer. Only when Ian Evatt unfortunately turned a cross past Gilks did the Seasiders fall below the line. By the end of 90 minutes Holloway’s men had run themselves into the ground but could not avoid slipping to a 4-2 defeat.
Sunday was a day of contrasting emotions for Wigan Athletic. The Latics managed to scrape a 1-0 victory away at Stoke to ensure that they will play at least one more season of Premier League football. This outcome had looked impossible just one week previous; when they trailed 2-0 to a desperate West Ham side, only for a miraculous comeback to win 3-2 to give the side hope.
On Sunday Wigan started in cagey fashion, with Stoke providing stiff opposition despite having little to play for. They were thankful for Emerson Boyce, who cleared off the line with Al Habsi floundering. Wigan were clearly feeling the pressure and at half-time the side remained in a relegation spot; although five sides were level on 40 points and separated by just two goals.
As the game reached 78 minutes, Wigan were still 18th and in real danger of dropping into the Championship. That was until Hugo Rodellega delivered another priceless goal; rising salmon-like to power in a superb header and give Wigan a 1-0 lead that they would hold until full-time.
Fleetwood are another side that will remain in the same division for 2011/12. Their first campaign in the Blue Square Premier saw the Cod Army reach the play-offs; where they met AFC Wimbledon, the side that eventually won promotion to the football league. It represents a momentous achievement for a club that has risen through the leagues with alarming regularity and now sit just one step from the Football League.
Their two-legged play-off proved a step too far as a well drilled and clinical AFC Wimbledon ran out 8-1 winners on aggregate. The first leg at Highbury was a close game, with Fleetwood restricting the Dons to two goals and looking threatening themselves. However, the second leg saw an attacking line-up from Fleetwood dominated by the destructive counter attack of AFC. The result was a 6-0 mauling that did not do justice to the fine performance of Fleetwood throughout the season. With expectations at the club lofty, it remains to be seen whether Mickey Mellon with remain as manager for the next campaign.