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Blackpool 2 Saints 2
FOR some, there was a sense of déjà vu at Bloomfield Road.
When Saints last visited Blackpool in December 1977, Lawrie McMenemy was in the away dugout and Alan Ball was back where it all began for him midway through his first full season at The Dell.
On that occasion, Ball helped Saints to an important win - Ted MacDougall scored the only goal - en route to promotion back to the old first division.
Thirty years on, a portrait of Ball in his Blackpool days was unveiled before kick-off and McMenemy was again in attendance, this time in the directors' box, while two clubs with proud histories resumed their battle for points in English football's second tier.
But unlike 1977-78, 2007-08 is all about avoiding relegation.
Saints have League One to avoid as they are now just three points clear of third-from-bottom Sheffield Wednesday, who have two games in hand and a better goal difference.
While Saints were earning a creditable fourth successive draw, results elsewhere were conspiring against them, notably at Hillsborough, where the club Nigel Pearson once captained with distinction came from behind to beat QPR.
At half-time, however, it all looked very promising.
Pearson named the same side that left the field at Wolves but shuffled his midfield quartet with Mario Licka handed the right flank role in which he impressed for the reserves before his first-team recall.
Jason Euell, in his first start for nearly three weeks, took the Czech's place on the left, while Jhon Viafara was given a central role alongside Youssef Safri.
The gusty conditions at an exposed Bloomfield Road were not conducive to flowing football, but Saints at least showed the tenacity that Ball was known for, albeit without his quality.
Wayne Thomas and Andrew Davies continued to lay a solid foundation and behind them Michael Poke enjoyed an encouraging debut in difficult conditions after Kelvin Davis failed a fitness test on the dislocated finger he suffered at Wolves.
Neither keeper was called into action until Poke dived full stretch to his right and got his finger tips to a cross shot from former Cherries midfielder Claus Jorgensen midway through the first half.
That helped settle any nerves that the 22-year-old may have had and, ten minutes later, Gregory Vignal showed none at all in dispatching another positive penalty into the bottom-right corner.
Following good approach play from Euell and Marek Saganowski, Stern John found himself with nowhere to go in the penalty area as a cluster of defenders surrounded him.
But he did well to keep possession before Kaspars Gorkss was adjudged to have fouled him.
Vignal's confidence from the penalty spot put him on the score sheet for the third successive away game, following his goals at Scunthorpe and Wolves.
Thankfully, his sending off at Molineux was overturned on Thursday when video evidence showed he gave Sylvan Ebanks- Blake an innocuous prod and not a malicious kick.
Saints were grateful to his quality at left-back.
An outstanding pass found Marek Saganowski just before the break but it is now nearly six months since the Pole last scored.
He has played for 1,040 minutes without netting - against Barnsley last September - but came close to his third in 27 appearances this season when he fired Vignal's incisive pass wide of the far post.
Had that gone in, Saints would surely have got the win that would have relieved some pressure ahead of fourth-from-bottom Leicester's visit to St Mary's tomorrow.
But two Blackpool goals in six second-half minutes shortly after half-time ensured Saints were grateful for a point in the end.
Midfielder Keith Southern, captain in Michael Jackson's absence, glanced a header from Shaun Barker's long throw into the far corner of Poke's goal.
And when Andrew Davies's header only half cleared a freekick from former Saint Stephen Crainey, Latvian international Gorkss atoned for the penalty by volleying Blackpool into a 55thminute lead through a crowded area.
No Championship side has conceded more goals away from home than the 37 Saints have let in this season.
But they continued to show their new-found resilience, even after Davies departed with a suspected cheekbone fracture.
When Euell's near-post header following Licka's corner hit the legs of Paul Rachubka, John netted the rebound, his 15th goal of the season for Saints, from inside the six-yard box in the 63rd minute.
Saints had chances to claim a first win in 10 Championship matches.
But Saganowski headed straight at Rachubka and Euell's appeals for a penalty following a goalmouth melee midway through the second half were ignored by referee David Foster, presumably for ball-to-hand.
The draw was the fair result as Poke was kept busy.
Saints were also relieved when a Gary Taylor-Fletcher cross flashed across the six-yard box and when Wes Hoolahan twice missed the target.