Championship - Blackpool start season with win
Blackpool returned to the Championship with a 1-0 win at Hull City as a stunning late goal from Gary Taylor-Fletcher marked the start of the English 2011-12 season in style.
Attacking midfielder Taylor-Fletcher, who also scored in Blackpool’s season-opener last year, unleashed a rasping half-volley from an acute angle that flew across keeper Peter Gulacsi and into the top-left corner.
It was an early candidate for one of the goals of the season and a fitting start to life back in the second tier for Ian Holloway’s side, who were desperately unlucky to be relegated on the final day of last season after lighting up the Premier League with their gung-ho philosophy.
Hull, meanwhile, will be disappointed to have lost, having missed a host of chances including a dreadful miss by substitute Jay Simpson in injury time.
The Seasiders did not start in the manner which fans of their heart-breaking relegation campaign will be accustomed: there were even shades of the long ball approach to their game, which proved more effective later in the half but initially saw them swamped by the short-passing Hull.
Young Tigers midfielder Tom Cairney almost started the season with a bang as his beautiful curling free-kick dipped off the Blackpool crossbar, while impressive on-loan Manchester United teenager Rob Brady smacked a low drive just wide after a smart turn.
Holloway's normally free-attacking side looked lacklustre, possibly missing Liverpool signing Charlie Adam and Queen’s Park Rangers striker DJ Campbell, and it took them half an hour before they put pressure on the hosts.
Elliot Grandin then headed wide from a superb cross by debutant Kevin Phillips as Hull’s on-loan Liverpool keeper Gulacsi flapped wildly, while Phillips almost got a goal himself as he smacked a wicked first-time effort off the post.
A goalless scoreline at the interval seemed fair enough, and the second period begun where the first left off as Blackpool continued to flex their muscles in the Hull half.
Dele Adebola - wooden but effective alongside Matt Fryatt - had to come off with a recurrence of a pre-season leg injury, and team-mate Brady was all that prevented Grandin a free route to goal, his inch-perfect slide tackle denying the Frenchman.
The unconvincing Gulacsi flapped again at a straight ball, this time Craig Cathcart unable to put his header on target, as the first half was reversed with Hull struggling to get out of their half.
But the hosts almost created something from nothing as Blackpool’s notoriously flaky central defence parted to give Fryatt a free run on goal: it was Baptiste who saved the day with a wonderful covering challenge.
That marked another shift in the balance of power as Hull started to look far more likely - they went on to control the final half hour, yet were unable to find the back of the net.
Nick Barmby, on as a sub for the stricken Adebola, twice came agonisingly close sliding in on low crosses, while he spooned what should have been the opener over the bar after Matt Gilks kept out Fryatt’s finish.
Cathcart made an immense block to deny Cairney after more super wing-play from the livewire Brady but for all their possession and chances Hull could not score.
And they were made to pay, in style, when - with nine minutes left - Taylor-Fletcher showed wonderful technique to angle a bouncing ball into a vicious volley that flew in from the right, having worked the position via a one-two with Grandin.
The stunner could have knocked the stuffing out of Hull but, in the latter stages, they bombarded the visiting goal, somehow to no avail.
Cairney had a long-range free-kick deflected wide. That led to a succession of corners - one of which Gilks dropped, only for Brady to miss the target.
Blackpool had been holding on before their goal and they continued to do so into four minutes of injury time - during which Simpson raced clean through but appeared to panic as he spooned his finish over with just the keeper to beat.
It was a bad miss, although it was disappointing to hear boos from the home fans as the final whistle was blown. Blackpool are back in the Championship with their reputation intact, and despite again being ranked as outsiders for promotion, should be in the mix come April.