Blackpool Vs. Birmingham, 2012 Championship Playoffs: Preview, Two Sides Looking to Make Premier League Return

Gary Taylor Fletcher of Blackpool celebrates with his team mates after scoring his team's first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Blackpool and Liverpool at Bloomfield Road in Blackpool England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Two sides with contrasting styles look to advance to the playoff final and a earn a shot at returning to the Premier League.

Blackpool shocked English football in 2012 when they upset Nottingham Forest and Cardiff City on their way to promotion to the Premier League. While the 2011 campaign ended bitterly with a loss to Manchester United and relegation back to the Championship, Ian Holloway and the Tangerines are back with a return to the top flight on their mind.

Birmingham are looking to make a quick return to the to flight as well. The Blues defeated champion Reading on the final day of the season to leap over Blackpool, gaining the advantage of hosting the second leg. After last season's disappointing relegation and owner Carson Yeung's financial issues hampering the club's budget all season, it's a testament to manager Chris Hughton that the Blues are in this position.

Birmingham enter the semifinal unbeaten in nine, but five of those matches were draws. Nikola Zigic should be fit after leaving the Blues' regular season finale after 19 minutes with an ankle injury. Guirane N'Daw made his return from a hamstring injury this weekend and should be available as well. Jordon Mutch is available after resting on the weekend and fullback Jonathan Spector will be evaluated before the match.

Blackpool have been on a similar run of form to the Blues having not lost in seven matches (four wins, three draws). Craig Cathcart is the only player unavailable for Holloway and the side could be boosted by the return of on-loan striker Roman Bednar.

This is a match-up for contrasting styles. The robust, tough to break down Birmingham against an aggressive Ian Holloway side more likely to gamble, so it should be an entertaining tie. The sides drew 2-2 at Bloomfield Road in November and Birmingham won the return match at St. Andrews 3-0 in December.

Friday, May 4

Blackpool v Birmingham - 18:45GMT/14:45ET

TV: Fox Soccer Plus (US), Sky Sports 1 (UK), Fox Soccer 2 Go (Online)

Thanks to Richard Oram for his help co-writing our Championship Playoff previews.

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