Nottingham Forest made headlines recently as they eliminated an under-strength Arsenal from the FA Cup at the third round stage. Much was made of the Arsene Wenger’s decision to play an entire starting eleven made up of reserves, but the hosts still had to beat a team of internationals to progress.
Forest may have benefited from playing against a weakened side, but once upon a time, it was them fielding reserves that aided Blackpool in a spectacular way. Had it not been for belligerent Billy Davies choosing to rest players towards the end of the 2009/10 season, Blackpool may never have tasted the Premier League.
Just four games before the end of the season, a superb run by the Tangerines was ended by a 4-1 hammering at Newcastle. Five games without defeat resulted in them sitting in seventh place, one outside the play-off spots. Nottingham Forest were due up next, who were third and had already qualified for the end-of-season lottery.
Swansea, Leicester City and Cardiff were the other teams vying for the final spot, all were in good form and on the afternoon of April 17, all faced teams with little to play for. With third-placed Forest having lost just one in six, Blackpool were likely to be eliminated from the race for the Premier League.
Forest were already assured their place in the top six, though, and Billy Davies decided the trip to Bloomfield Road represented a great opportunity to rest some first team players. Out went Chris Gunter, Robert Earnshaw, Dexter Blackstock and Nathan Tyson. In came James Perch, Dele Adebola, Joe Garner and David McGoldrick. It was a risky strategy and one that drew criticism from the other sides chasing the Holy Grail of a Premier League spot.
Forest, who recently slipped to 150/1 in the current season Championship betting, had let their guard down and a rampant Blackpool grabbed the chance with both hands. Charlie Adam netted from the penalty spot before DJ Campbell grabbed a second. It mattered little that Joe Garner, one of the fringe players, pulled a goal back for Forest because Campbell added a third with six minutes remaining.
The other three sides all won their games, but the trickiest tie had been overcome. A week later, Blackpool won away at Peterborough, again thanks to DJ Campbell, but Swansea stumbled. They lost 2-0 at Sheffield United, paving the way for a sixth-placed finish for Ian Holloway’s unfashionable Tangerines.
Fate inevitably pitched them against Forest in the semi-finals and this time all of the big guns took part for Forest. It mattered not, as a 2-1 win at Bloomfield Road secured the slender advantage before a DJ Campbell hat-trick eliminated Billy Davies’ side on their own ground, 6-4 on aggregate. The rest, as they say, is history.
Had Blackpool not be given an easier ride a couple of weeks before, it is highly likely that points could have been dropped, resulting in Swansea grabbing the final playoff spot. Would the Tangerines ever have ascended to the Premier League after missing out? Who knows, but it does go to show that plying a weakened side can change the course of history, something Forest have now found out from both sides of the fence.