Manchester United 4-2 Blackpool

By Phil McNultyChief football writer at Old Trafford
Charlie Adam
Blackpool equalised through Charlie Adam, and even took the lead briefly

Blackpool's one-season stay in the top flight ended in defeat and a rollercoaster ride of emotions as Manchester United celebrated their record 19th title with victory at Old Trafford.

Boss Ian Holloway knew only three points would give Blackpool a realistic chance of survival amid the dramatic twists and turns of the final day of the campaign, as five clubs fought to secure Premier League status.

And when goals from Charlie Adam and Gary Taylor-Fletcher turned around an early deficit after Ji-Sung Park put United ahead, the Tangerines looked on course to navigate an unlikely path to survival at the home of the newly-crowned champions, who have lost only two points at home all season.

Sadly for Holloway, his players and the thousands of Blackpool supporters who travelled in hope of an escape, United ruthlessly punished the Seasiders in the closing stages, condemning them to relegation with West Ham United and Birmingham City.

Anderson's equaliser placed Blackpool under pressure they were unable to withstand, with Ian Evatt's own goal and Michael Owen's late strike setting the seal on a day that offered hope and finally heartbreak.

Blackpool's attacking approach has illuminated the Premier League but the defensive deficiencies that have haunted them were still in evidence as their brief stay in English football's top tier came to an end.

At the final whistle, as United prepared to be presented with the Premier League trophy that would confirm their coronation as English football's most successful domestic club, Old Trafford spared a thought for the gallant visitors as both Blackpool and Holloway were afforded a generous standing ovation.

Blackpool's journey has been characterised by an all-out attacking philosophy and Holloway stayed true to his principles to the end, but it was to no avail as they return to the Championship a year to the day after they won promotion.

It was a day of contrasting emotions as Blackpool found themselves out of the relegation places then back in as results around the Premier League fluctuated on so-called 'Survival Sunday'.

And there was no greater illustration of this than the scenes after the final whistle, as Blackpool's tearful and dejected players trooped towards their followers while Old Trafford exploded in joy as United collected the trophy and looked forward to Saturday's Champions League final against Barcelona at Wembley.

Ferguson, who fielded a strong side despite leaving Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand on the bench, took the microphone to pay tribute to retiring goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar and Gary Neville, who quit earlier this season.

Blackpool's initial objective was victory - and they should have been ahead inside the first 30 seconds.

Adam pulled a cross back invitingly for the incoming Keith Southern, but he was gripped by indecision and pulled his effort well wide when a goal seemed certain.

Adam was confirming his status as Blackpool's main creative force and another swerving low cross, tantalisingly out of Van der Sar's reach, saw Taylor-Fletcher just fail to apply the crucial final touch.

Blackpool's positive intent was matched by defensive frailty and United almost took advantage twice early on, with Matt Gilks saving well from Rafael and, even more impressively, from Dimitar Berbatov.

There was no escape, however, in the 21st minute when Berbatov's pass released Park in the area.

Evatt was weak in the challenge with the South Korean, who escaped his attentions to lift his finish over the advancing Gilks.

The goal appeared to deflate Blackpool and Gilks was in action again on the half-hour when Berbatov profited from more uncertainty.

The Bulgarian swooped on the loose ball but Blackpool's keeper was able to make a crucial block with his legs.

Just as it looked like all Holloway's motivational powers would be required at the interval, Adam provided the sort of inspirational moment that has been a trademark of Blackpool's season to open up the possibility of survival.

Referee Mike Dean punished Nemanja Vidic for a foul on Taylor-Fletcher and the Scot curled a superb left-foot free-kick past Van der Sar and in off the upright.

Adam demonstrated his quality from set pieces again after 48 minutes when he forced Van der Sar to punch away another free-kick - but another moment of sheer elation was not far away from the Seasiders.

Vaughan found space on the right side of United's area before setting up Taylor-Fletcher, whose glancing effort teased the thousands of Blackpool fans behind the goal before bouncing off the post and into the net.

The celebrations were short-lived as United were swiftly back on terms when Park's cross was swept high past Gilks by Anderson - immediately prompting Ferguson to send Owen into the action.

Blackpool were on the back foot after United stepped up the pressure, with Gilks saving acrobatically from Berbatov and Nani somehow heading Chris Smalling's cross wide with the goal at his mercy.

Holloway's side were living on the edge and tumbled over the precipice in the cruellest fashion possible with 16 minutes left as Evatt, a stalwart of their season, could only divert Smalling's cross into his own net.

As the inevitability of their fate dawned on them, Blackpool became ragged and Owen showed some of the old expertise in front of goal when he raced through from Anderson's pass and beat Gilks with ease to wrap up United's victory and condemn Holloway and his players to the drop.

Even as they suffered in the final moments of this Premier League season Blackpool refused to go quietly, with Van der Sar saving from Adam and Luke Varney hitting the bar with a header.

Old Trafford delivered a heartfelt tribute to Blackpool as they made their way off - but there was no consolation to be found on a day of bitter disappointment.