Ian Holloway, the Blackpool manager, must have been utterly distraught on Wednesday night.
He watched his team battle bravely against Aston Villa, and they were full value for a 2-2 draw until Villa snatched all three points in the final minute.
It was a harsh result on Blackpool, who had played as they have all season; with attacking purpose and a no fear attitude that has won many followers across the country.
Holloway is a man who deserves great credit; on a limited budget he managed to get that Blackpool side out of The Championship and into the promised land of the Premier League.
Brett Ormerod, the striker whose goal secured The Tangerines play-off win in May against Cardiff, said after that game that Holloway “should be knighted”.
Perhaps that is a little much at this stage, but Holloway’s accomplishments so far at Bloomfield Road have been nothing short of miraculous.
Yet after the game on Wednesday, instead of being praised for bringing this breath of fresh air into England’s top flight, Holloway was vilified for not picking his strongest team.
The affable Bristolian made ten changes to his side, and gave his ‘fringe’ players a chance. The word fringe is in inverted commas here because Holloway doesn’t see these players as fringe players, as bench-warmers or reserves. He values them all equally.
The players he picked fought brilliantly, and deserved at least a point in that game. They gave Aston Villa a mighty scare.
Yet Holloway could be set for a fine from The Premier League for not picking his perceived strongest team.
How utterly pathetic is this?
At the start of the season, Holloway, like every other manager in the Premier League, picked a squad of 25 players that could be used in the first half of the season.
He didn’t have to highlight his ‘best’ 11 players. He picked 25, to use as he wished.
On Wednesday, he used them just as he liked, and was criticised.
Mick McCarthy suffered a similar fate last season, making ten changes to his Wolves side for a visit to Manchester United. Wolves lost, and McCarthy was criticised and his club given a suspended fine.
But McCarthy’s plan worked; the next week his team won against one of their relegation rivals.
On the final day the season before, Sir Alex Ferguson named a weakened side at Hull, resting his big stars for their impending Champions League final appearance.
On that occasion, Manchester United won, and Ferguson faced no such rap.
So if Blackpool had won last week, would Holloway have been punished? My guess is not. He’d have probably been hailed as a tactical genius.
Perhaps it is the case then that bigger teams get preferential treatment from The Premier League.
But it is certainly the case that Ian Holloway can do what he likes with his team. If not, then why is he even in the job. Why not let The Premier League bigwigs pick the team for every match.
Holloway says that he’ll resign if his club is fined; and to me that’s the measure of the man. Standing up for what he believes is right.
But if he goes, the Premier League, and indeed football in general, will be a darker place without him.