Blackpool v West Ham United

Preview Percy hasn't been to Blackpool in years. He sort of went off the place after the incident with the guest house landlady, the "kiss me quick" hat and a plate of whelks, one of which was off. Despite this he's found the time to pen a few words about this week's match. Unfortunately. Stats as ever from John Northcutt.....

Our next trip on the road takes us up the motorway to Blackpool where, due to FA Cup commitments, once more we must miss out on a weekend by the seaside. Kick-off is at 8pm which will make a nice late night just a little bit later. If you decide to hang around for Holloway's press conference you would do well to remember that Palace at home on Saturday is an early kick-off.

Our hosts come into this one in a decent spot of form. Prior to Saturday's cup defeat to Everton they had been unbeaten in all competitions since the turn of the year, their last defeat coming away to Birmingham on New Year's Eve where they were defeated 3-0. In the seven league matches since then they have won five (Boro' h 3-0, Palace h 2-1, Coventry h 2-1, Cardiff a 3-1 and Doncaster a 3-1) and drawn two (Ipswich a 2-2 and Pompey h 1-1). In the Cup they dispatched Fleetwood 5-1 in the third round (a match amusingly dubbed "The Donkey Derby"), Sheffield Wednesday 3-0 at Hillsborough after a 1-1 draw at Bloomfield Road before going out to the Toffeemen 2-0 at the weekend. A bonkers opening six minutes did for them at Goodison, though Kevin Phillips-Bong putting his second half penalty into the same geostationary orbit as Chris Waddle's Italia '90 effort won't have helped any.

The strong league run has pushed them into 5th spot with 52 points from their 31 matches so far. That's five points and three places behind us, though we do have the game in hand.

They didn't do a lot of business in the recent transfer window. They did go in for Motherwell's Jamie Murphy on deadline day but, after a chat with his Mum & Dad the player elected to stay put. He came out with a dignified statement about how flattered he was to have been on Blackpool's radar but, on the whole, he'd rather stay put for the time being if it was all the same to Blackpool. I don't know about you but there was something heart-warming about the whole thing, in which agents weren't mentioned once. Of course if he ends up on a mega deal to play in some Premiership team's reserves come the summer that'll be another illusion shattered.

They turned down a number of bids for the in-form Matt Phillips, including, reportedly, one from ourselves on the grounds that they didn't need the money, and one from Cardiff because they didn't want to sell to a small club. The 20 year-old winger has been capped at both U19 and U20 level by England. However, the discovery of an old Blockbusters receipt down the back of the sofa for the rental of the "Braveheart" DVD by one of his grandparents means that he now qualifies for Scotland and even as I speak it has been announced that he is in the full Sweaty Squad for their forthcoming friendly against Slovenia; a match that is to be played in Celje's "Arena Petrol" stadium. (Advanced purchase of tickets advised - the cost will go up while you're in the queue if you pay on the day). Phillips (M) played no part in proceedings at the weekend - a tight hamstring obtained against Doncaster being cited as the reason for his absence though Holloway probably had half an eye on our visit in deciding whether or not to risk the winger.

Assuming he's fit Phillips (M) is a cert for the starting XI, unlike his namesake Phillips (K), whose appearances this season have been as much from the bench than from the changing room. Of his 32 appearances in all competitions exactly half have come as substitute. In the league the ratio is 15 sub appearances from 28. He's still their top scorer though with 11 in all competitions, 10 of which have come in the league. I understand that the modern phrase for such a phenomenon is "Impact Sub" (as opposed to all those changes managers make with the sole intention of not affecting the match in any way, shape or form I suppose).

Other options up front are the on-loan Wigan striker (schoolboy humour alert) Nouha Dicko, Thomas Ince - whose dad was apparently a professional footballer, Ronan Bednar and Brett Ormerod. The latter two have been used sparingly, often from the bench, and Ormerod spent last month away on loan at Rochdale. As messrs Piquionne, Carew, Sears etc have discovered, with only five allowed on the bench this season it's difficult to keep everyone involved.

They are fewer in number in the midfield section of the squad. Gary Taylor-Fletcher is third top scorer this season and his seven goals thus far are testament to the fact that he can also play up front when required. The double-barrelled surname comes not from membership of some old-established Gloucestershire family who can trace their ancestry back to the Domesday Book, but from the fact that when he married Ms Viv Taylor back in 2004 he elected to take her surname as part of his own. What is the world coming to? I mean equality is all very well but when it means that some kid is going to have to pay another tenner to get his favourite player's name on the back of his shirt a line has to be drawn. I mean where will it all end? Women will be wanting the vote next. Having written all that my nurse has just arrived with my medication and the news that the player picked up a knee injury on Saturday and will be missing from this one. However, if I delete this it'll leave a gap in the page so I'll just suggest that he'll be a big miss for them.

Barry Ferguson is the current skipper. When last I wrote of our hosts I had cause to mention that he had been stripped of the captaincy at Rangers on a few occasions for unspecified "breaches of club discipline". Given what has been coming out of that part of Glasgow for the past week or so, if I were him I'd put in a claim to be refunded all the cash he's paid over to them in fines over the years on the grounds that anyone who owes the taxman upwards of ?50m has no right to be lecturing anyone on the subject of discipline.

Which sort of brings us neatly (albeit in a slightly contrived manner) to ourselves and, a few words about our match against Southampton. Taylor was daft, let's not beat about the bush. However that shouldn't obscure the fact that we were up against a team who provided us with the worst display of diving and play-acting since we last faced Liverpool. The fact that a referee as dreadful as Probert was that night actually managed to caution Lallana for a dive will give you a clue. Whilst Lallana's swallow dive with pike and two and a half turns was one of the worst attempts to win a penalty since Gerrard' s last visit to E13, the truth is that Southampton could easily have ended up with a further four or five yellows had the ref been even vaguely consistent about the same offence. The fact is that Probert's performance fell way short of the required standard for any professional match - let alone the Premiership that he somehow spends most of his time in. A 1% decent ref would have done a better job. Hell, a passer-by with a dog asked to step in when the ref failed to turn up would have done a better job. Actually, the dog would have done a better job - and would probably have given Sharp a nasty enough bite to justify the theatrics he showed in the Taylor incident.

As a result of his indiscretion, Taylor will miss this one and the next two, whilst for Nolan this is the second match of his three match ban. Papa is still suffering with his hamstring whilst Demel has been "close to a return" for so long I'm beginning to wonder if he's not a figment of somebody's imagination designed to hide a load of expenses under the heading "physio fees" in order to get them written-off against tax. (See Rangers - that's where you went wrong!)

There's also been a lot of debate about the positioning of James Tomkins. In the last two games we have started with the intention of having him play just in front of the back four in a sort of 4-1-4-1 line-up (or possibly a 4-1-3-3 if you consider us to be playing with three up front). On both occasions this plan has been stymied by our losing a player fairly early on, meaning that we've had to revert to a more traditional four across the middle. So we haven't really been able to see if this new system - introduced, remember, after everyone stood around pointing at everyone else at Ipswich - actually works to any great degree. The manager's team selection against Lee Probert's XI suggests that he has every faith in Tomkins to adapt to the role should we be able to keep all eleven on the pitch and I would expect with us to go with this formation again, especially since PBD won't be available.

Up front, well we're away from home and I wouldn't expect the manager to change the habits of a lifetime so I'm going to assume that we'll go with Cole as the lone ranger. Happily, the last two matches have proved that despite previous matches when the contrary has seemed to be the case, if the ball is played up to Cole in a considered manner (rather than the long and hopeful punt in the general direction of same which has been the case all too often this season) he is capable at holding it up and bringing players into the game. This is especially true if Faubert is given licence to get forward and join Cole from midfield. Another thing I've noticed of late is that Faubert himself is not incapable of winning headers up front - he seems to have developed the art of timing in that area of his game. So, much as I'd like to see a proper forward partnership with Maynard getting a start, I'm guessing that this won't be the case on Tuesday night.

Of the new boys Vaz Te (who I keep wanting to christen "Keith" after the similarly-named dodgy MP) clearly has an attacking brief, or at least would have had against Probert's XI had he not been pressed into a less attacking role by Taylor's departure. I'd like to see him given a start if only to signal some attacking intent, though he may have to be content with bench duties if a more defensive line-up is deemed necessary.

Maynard showed enough in his cameo role the other night to suggest that a) he probably isn't one to select if you want someone holding the ball up while midfield come up to support; and b) he can be a dangerous player who causes things to happen in opposition defences - only a fine save from Davies (who by that time should have been back in the stands for his red card offence) prevented him from getting the winner last week.

So "where do we stand on predictions then?" I hear you ask (or would do if I could afford the battery for my hearing aid). Well nobody can deny the impressive nature of the raw statistics of their recent run and the fact that they went out of the cup to Everton shouldn't cause too much of a dent to their confidence - especially in view of the changes made to their starting XI, possibly in anticipation of this match. However, a delve into reports of the performances behind that run suggests that there is a possible element of vulnerability about them. Against Doncaster, for example, Holloway was honest enough in his post match summing-up (which is due to finish any day now) to admit that the result flattered them and that but for a crucial save from Gilks at 2-1 he didn't think they would have won. Similarly, beleaguered Portsmouth went up there and got a point, missing a number of chances to seal all three before a Crainey free-kick levelled the scores with 15 left. So a win is not out of the question. However, on balance I reckon that a draw is the most likely outcome - I'll go for two apiece then though not within earshot of the bookies!

Enjoy the game!

When Last We Met: Won 4-0 Baldock (2) Carew and Collison were on target in one of our better performances of the season. Baptiste (who will miss this one) committed GBH on a corner flag which, like Demel, has been "close to a return" ever since.

Referee: Colin Webster - not This'll be his first time in charge of the Hammers. Hopefully a refreshing change after the "look at me I'm from the Premiership" posturings of Lee Probert last week. EDIT - since originally going to press I have now been informed that for reasons unknown Mr Webster has been replaced by Oliver Langford. This will be Mr Langford's first time in charge of us as well and, since he is apparently known to all as "Ollie", you can prepare your own "another fine mess" comments for post match.

Danger Man: Matt Phillips Riding the crest of a form wave despite willingly wanting to be thought of as Scottish. His namesake has a habit of scoring late ones as well.

Daft fact of the week: In Blackpool every Autumn the local authority strings up a load of light bulbs as a tourist attraction. Amazingly, Northerners, Scots and other simple folk who are impressed by the effect of electricity being passed across a filament passing through glass bulbs filled with incandescent gas flock in their thousands to point and go "ooh". They usually get a celebrity to turn the lights on but, with Fylde's deputy chief librarian being on holiday last August, they had to make do with Keith Lemon.

Stat man John: Northcutt's corner

They Played For Both

Kyel Reid, Marlon Harewood, Trevor Sinclair, George Dick, Bob Wyllie, Adam Nowland, Percy Thorpe, Ted MacDougall, Les Sealey, Mike Newell, Tom McAlister, Don Travis

Sam Allardyce was the Blackpool manager between 1994 and 1996

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