HOLLOWAY HAILS DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT
Blackpool manager Ian Holloway believes his team's new-found defensive solidity could hold the key to npower Championship play-off semi-final success against Birmingham.
Last Friday's 1-0 win in the first leg, courtesy of a Curtis Davies own goal, handed the Seasiders a slender advantage going into Wednesday night's return at St Andrew's.
The clean sheet was a third in a row at Bloomfield Road and, in an ongoing eight-match unbeaten run, the Tangerines have not had their defence breached on six occasions.
"We looked solid. It was another clean sheet," Holloway said, referring to his team's first win over Birmingham in five attempts. "That's what we've improved on.
"We probably didn't do that enough early in the season, but I thought my two centre-halves and two full-backs were absolutely outstanding.
"With Angel Martinez in front of them as well and (Barry) Ferguson getting a foot in, we didn't look like we were going to let anything in."
Holloway feels this is no mean feat, considering the attacking options opposite number Chris Hughton has at his disposal.
He added: "(Marlon) King's a handful and (Nathan) Redmond's been in great form, so to limit them to however many chances they had, I thought my centre-halves were absolutely outstanding."
Blackpool's miserly run did not appear to be on the cards when they were clinically dispatched by 3-1 eventual champions Reading nine games ago.
As part of a defensive reshuffle after the Madjeski Stadium reverse, Alex Baptiste reverted from right-back to centre-half and has since formed a formidable partnership with Ian Evatt.
"I think Alex has been under the radar for a couple of years now," Evatt said of his 26-year-old team-mate. "He's a fantastic player and one that can play in a number of positions.
"Me and Alex tend to end seasons together rather than start them - for whatever reason I don't know. We've ended the last few seasons together and it seems to be that way again.
"He's a fantastic footballer and he's in with a great shout for our player of the year this year."
Competition for that particular gong may come from winger Tom Ince if the former Liverpool youngster can repeat his livewire display from the first leg.
Ince's speculative drive a minute before half-time took a wicked deflection off the helpless Davies for the game's only goal and he proceeded to drive the visitors onto the back foot for the majority of the second period with his menacing pace and trickery.
In line with thoughts previously expressed by his manager, Ince insists "what we have, we hold" is not a mentality Blackpool are looking to entertain.
"It's great to have an advantage going into the second leg, but obviously we'd have liked it to have been a little bit more," he told the club's official website.
"We'll take the 1-0, go there and look to score.
"Home and away we can go and score goals and create chances, so that will be no different."
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