Blackpool relegated after 4-2 loss at Man United
Blackpool's adventure in the Premier League came to a heartbreaking end on Sunday as Ian Holloway's side was relegated after a 4-2 loss at champion Manchester United.
The visitors were out of the bottom three and within sight of survival when they led 2-1 in the second half at Old Trafford, but Ian Evatt's calamitous 74th-minute own goal put United in front at 3-2 and Blackpool never recovered.
The small-budget team from England's northwest has won many admirers for its attacking intent this season, but it ultimately counted for nothing as Blackpool fans contemplated a return to the League Championship after only one season in the top flight.
''It's difficult to put into words,'' Holloway said. ''It just shows how cruel life can be.''
While Blackpool was suffering, United, which secured a record 19th English title last weekend, was presented with the Premier League trophy after the game.
''What a season,'' manager Alex Ferguson told the Old Trafford crowd. ''When you look back over the years, I don't think there's been a more dramatic season than this, and you have to credit the team unity and spirit of the players.''
Ferguson's men finished top with 80 points from 38 games, nine points ahead of second-placed Chelsea. They now look forward to next Saturday's Champions League final against Barcelona at Wembley.
Blackpool finished second from bottom of the Premier League on 39 points, one point from 17th-placed Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Holloway added: ''On another day, without the tension, we might have won (today). I couldn't be prouder of my team. It all boils down to were we, as a club, quite ready for this (season in the Premier League)? Probably not. But we gave it a good shot.
''It wasn't this game that cost us, and I'm going to dread looking (back at the season) - the times we let late goals in, the times we were in the lead, and certain (refereeing) decisions as well.''
Holloway will have particular nightmares about the second half of the season. After Blackpool beat Liverpool 2-1 on January 12, the club picked up just 11 points from a possible 54.
That was the reason why Blackpool, whose previous appearance in England's top division was in 1971, began the final day of the season in the bottom three and one of five clubs - including Wigan, Birmingham, Wolves and Blackburn - threatened by relegation.
Yet Holloway and his players very nearly enjoyed a dream start at Old Trafford, after just 24 seconds.
Charlie Adam burst into space on the left wing, advanced to the byline, and cut a low cross back to Keith Southern. But ten meters out and in the center of the goal, Southern fluffed his sidefooted shot and the ball rolled wide.
Dimitar Berbatov, who ends the season as the league's joint top scorer alongside Carlos Tevez with 20 goals, provided United's chief threat in the first half.
After eight and 31 minutes the Bulgarian forced sharp saves from Blackpool keeper Matt Gilks from close range but, in between those moments, it was Berbatov's touch and vision that created United's opening goal.
On 21 minutes he used his chest to control a diagonal pass from Darren Fletcher before pushing a nicely weighted pass into Ji-sung Park's path through the middle. Evatt overcommitted himself and the Korean capitalised, sidestepping the Blackpool defender and lifting the ball delicately over Gilks.
Adam was at the heart of most of Blackpool's good work. In the 30th minute he tried to beat Edwin van der Sar from just inside United's half but the ball sailed over the crossbar. Ten minutes later, Nemanja Vidic fouled Gary Taylor-Fletcher, and Adam stepped up to bend a brilliant free-kick past the Dutch keeper from 25 yards to make it 1-1.
It ensured 40-year-old Van der Sar, who retires after the Champions League final, would not celebrate a clean sheet in the final domestic league game of his career.
He was beaten again in the 57th minute, when Blackpool took a shock lead. The visitors moved the ball through Jason Puncheon and David Vaughan on the left-hand side of United's defense. The winger crossed low to Taylor-Fletcher, who deftly flicked the ball into the corner of van der Sar's net.
The goal was greeted with unalloyed joy by Blackpool fans, who could now almost touch Premier League survival. Five minutes later United equalised and the tension returned.
Anderson took a return pass from Park and, unmarked as Blackpool's defense went to sleep again, the Brazilian curled a first-time left-footed shot inside Gilks's far post.
Gilks saved well from Berbatov moments later, but even at 2-2 - and with other results going their way - Blackpool was still safe.
There was another, cruel twist.
Michael Owen, a second-half United substitute, fed the ball to Chris Smalling, another substitute, on the right flank. The defender delivered an innocuous low cross that nine times out of 10 would have been cleared by Evatt. But the big centre-back, off balance, stuck out his right foot and the ball ricocheted low past his own keeper.
Blackpool made one last push for survival, and Evatt, desperate to atone for his error, popped up at the other end, but Van der Sar blocked at the defender's feet.
Nine minutes from time, Anderson fed Owen and the former England striker slotted past Gilks to confirm Blackpool's fate.