Ian Holloway claims he could not have envisaged Blackpool being involved in the promotion shake-up following a chaotic pre-season at Bloomfield Road. The Seasiders host Birmingham in the first leg of their npower Championship play-off semi-final on Friday night, chasing an instant return to the Barclays Premier League. Such a scenario seemed unlikely as Charlie Adam, DJ Campbell and David Vaughan led an exodus from Holloway's playing squad last summer and those that remained were riven by disputes over a reduction in wages on the back of relegation.
"The energy around the place was hideous," Holloway said. "We won the first two games after a terrible pre-season - absolutely awful results. "I think we got beaten twice, didn't really play very well and everybody was moaning and arguing about their money because it went back down. "Luckily the chairman agreed to move nearly all of them back up because of the arguments that I was having with him and the club secretary. He didn't have to but he did it. I felt that settled things down." On-loan West Brom striker Roman Bednar could return to Blackpool's. Bednar has not featured for Ian Holloway's side since sustaining a knee injury during March's 3-3 draw with Leicester, moments after opening his account for the club. However, the 29-year-old played for the reserves against Manchester United on Tuesday night to put himself in contention to face Chris Hughton's men. Craig Cathcart will miss the match and continues to be assessed after suffering heart palpitations, but the former Manchester United centre-back is Holloway's only absentee.
Marlon King insists the pressure is not on Birmingham. King, with 18 goals to his name, has spearheaded a City campaign which, it is fair to say, was relatively low on expectations last summer when the striker arrived on a free transfer from Coventry. An overhaul of the club's squad following relegation from the Barclays Premier League, a change in management, well-documented cash-flow problems and a gruelling Europa League campaign left supporters hoping for, rather than expecting, an immediate return to England's top flight. Sixty games later and Birmingham head to Blackpool having finished a commendable fourth in the table. King said: "My feeling is, being brutally honest, if we didn't have Europe and the other cup games I think we would have finished automatic (in the top two). But we've got a job to do and it's Blackpool. It's going to be a tough two games and then we'll take it from there." He continued: "If we considered (missing out on automatic qualification) a disappointment then I don't think we'd be at this stage discussing play-offs. If we dwelled on `what could have been' then I don't think we would have been able to have got to this stage of finishing fourth - strongly. We haven't lost in our last nine games, five draws and four wins is very, very strong by anybody's record. "And I don't think anybody in the play-offs would want to play us. I don't think the pressure is on Birmingham City, I think it's on other teams. Blackpool will want to get back to where they came from, West Ham have spent a lot of money and Cardiff have been in and around it. We're just a relaxed bunch and we've got a very calm and cool manager and staff, and we've got very passionate fans and people around the club."
Nikola Zigic will be fit for Blues. The Serbian striker was forced off after just 19 minutes of the 2-0 win over Reading on the final day of the regular season having taken a knock to his ankle but has recovered. Guirane N'Daw made his return from a hamstring injury in the impressive victory and has suffered no ill-effects, while fellow midfielder Jordon Mutch (ankle) has benefited from being rested for the encounter and is okay. Right-back Jonathan Spector (thigh) was set to make his return to training on Wednesday and will be assessed ahead of the encounter, although fellow full-back Stephen Carr (knee) and midfielder Keith Fahey (groin) are a bit further away in their recoveries. Centre-back Steven Caldwell (groin) and goalkeeper Boaz Myhill (thumb) have been ruled out.
Blackpool V Birmingham - view commentary, squad, and statictics of the game live.