In a weekend when Manchester City’s failure to take on a defensive midfielder cost them victory in a final, Blackpool’s Kenny Dougall showed what a difference people in a tenacious role can make, albeit with a rare and unlikely double to his side back to the championship.
For the first time in his career, the 28-year-old scored twice in one game, bringing Blackpool back to the second tier after six years.
Dougall, the Australian international, had previously scored two goals in three seasons in England, including one in the semi-final of the play-off 10 days ago.
Neil Critchley’s team won promotion to the championship on Sunday afternoon
They will return to the championship after six years thanks to their 2-1 win over Lincoln
Lincoln players were left devastated after missing a huge opportunity to advance to the second level
But the midfielder has found his shooting boots at just the right time. He wore one on both feet here, a combination of left and right to reverse the score after Lincoln took a lead in the first minute.
What lovely strikes they were, both were sent with authority from outside the area to ask you which one, if any, is his weaker side. But also – why doesn’t he score more often?
“Earlier in the season the manager told me not to shoot!” revealed Douglas.
One such instruction is an isolated mistake by boss Neil Critchley, though he protested: ‘I told him not to shoot from 35 yards when they flew over – he can shoot from 20 yards!’
The (top) side of Critchley fell 1-0 in the first minute of the game due to an own goal
However, Kenny Dougall equalized for Neil Critchley’s team just before half-time
Dougall’s goal was a left footed shot from outside the box to the bottom left corner
Critchley’s side have been fantastic since late January, climbing from 15th position to secure a play-off spot.
This is the 42-year-old’s first full season in management, having left Liverpool’s youth academy last year.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would end at Wembley in an occasion like this,” he said. “But that was one of the reasons I left Liverpool – I wanted to taste the highs and lows of management.”
Critchley also praised owner Simon Sadler, the Blackpool-born businessman who ousted the unpopular Oyston family in 2019.
“Simon is a Blackpool fan, this is for him,” he added. “The club and the city mean everything to him.”
And this meant everything to the 4,000 Blackpool supporters behind the goal into which Dougall sent his second-half winner.
They have their club back after years of turbulence and mistrust. Indeed, the last time their team played here – in the 2017 League Two final – they stayed away in protest.
Fans were in the stadium to watch the exciting play-off final on Sunday afternoon
Blackpool: Maxwell, Turton, Ballard, Husband, Garbutt, Stewart, Dougall, Mitchell, Embleton, Anderson, Yates
Subs: Lawrence-Gabriel, Thorniley, Madine, Ward, Ekpiteta, Hamilton, Moore
Lincoln City: Palmer, Poole, Eyoma, Walsh, Edun, Bridcutt, McGrandles, Grant, Johnson, Hopper, Rogers
Subs: Montsma, Sanders, Scully, Bramall, Morton, Anderson, Long.
Referee: Tony Harrington (Cleveland)
But maybe they wish they had stayed home this time after Lincoln’s early goal.
Michael Appleton’s squad only arrived 45 minutes before kick-off after an extra hour staring at the brake lights on the road.
But once the match started, the handbrake was off and they scored after just 47 seconds. Brennan Johnson, the 20-year-old Wales winger, burst from the right, delivering a cross that was too fizzy for striker Tom Hopper to convert.
But for defender Ollie Turton too, the pace proved too high and his clumsy strike was at the expense of an awkward own goal.
The Seasiders looked like they were on the beach during the opening exchanges, a bewildering lack of energy considering the stakes.
Lincoln should have been two up when Jorge Grant was given time to determine an 18-yard shot and cut the bar.
But Blackpool made a late appearance and tied at 34 minutes. There was more than a whiff of handball when Elliot Embleton’s arm blocked a play and the ball landed so he could feed Dougall, who switched to the left and drilled into the bottom corner from 20 yards.
However, the number was still limited due to the ongoing restrictions during the pandemic
The absence of the VAR allowed those in tangerine to celebrate with joyful abandon, but in a Premier League world you suspect the goal would have been disallowed.
There was no doubt about the winner at 54 minutes. Dougall didn’t need a touch this time when the ball was rolled towards him by Jerry Yates and without hesitation, he hit Alex Palmer from 20 yards with the right foot.
So perhaps Pep Guardiola will take note: never underestimate the value of a defensive midfielder.