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10 May 2012

Blackpool survived a late Birmingham rally to set up a Championship play-off final showdown against West Ham.

The Tangerines led 1-0 from the first leg and Stephen Dobbie squeezed in a shot to extend their lead.

Matt Phillips epitomised the quality of Blackpool's play when he took down a ball and fired in on the turn.

Although Nikola Zigic slotted in and Curtis Davies headed home for Birmingham to set up an enthralling finale, Blackpool hung on.

In the heat of a vociferous atmosphere at a rain-lashed St Andrew's, the attacking intent from both teams served up the type of compelling contest that makes the play-offs so captivating.

Blackpool were cruising towards victory as Birmingham appeared to be feeling the toll of their 62nd game of the season.

The Blues somehow raised themselves to give Blackpool a major scare, but the Tangerines prevailed to keep alive their hopes of bouncing back into the Premier League at the first attempt when they meet West Ham at Wembley on 19 May.

Birmingham boss Chris Hughton took Newcastle up as Championship title winners in 2009-10 and opposite number Ian Holloway raised eyebrows when he steered unfashionable Blackpool into the top flight via the play-offs in the same season.

Holloway emerged victorious this time around after a tie in which the pattern of end-to-end play was set early on.

Thomas Ince's deflected shot gave Blackpool a first-leg lead and the winger's pace and trickery helped him terrorise the Blues defence on Wednesday.

The former Liverpool player had a decent shout for an early penalty when he was given a tug by left-back David Murphy as he prepared to shoot with a clear sight of goal.

Birmingham responded through King, who steered a Murphy cross on to the crossbar.

Amongst the fervour, Blackpool produced the more composed passing and threatening attacks, while Birmingham's anxiety to level the tie on aggregate was working against them as they hurried too much of their play.

Blackpool were finally rewarded for their efforts when Dobbie squeezed in at the far post, although Blues keeper Colin Doyle may feel he should have done better.

Phillips' expertly taken goal shortly after half-time gave Blackpool a three-goal cushion before Birmingham mounted a stirring comeback.

Chris Burke slid in a pass to which Zigic applied the finish and Davies nodded in from a corner, but Blackpool held on during a thrilling finale.


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