Manchester United relegate brave Blackpool

MANCHESTER, England, May 22, 2011 (AFP) - Premier League champions Manchester United sent Blackpool straight back down to the Championship with a 4-2 win at Old Trafford here on Sunday.

Blackpool led 2-1 with half an hour remaining but three goals in 18 minutes saw them return to the second tier of English football 12 months to the day they won the playoff final to win promotion.

United face Spanish giants Barcelona in the Champions League final at Barcelona at Wembley on Saturday and there had been intense speculation over what sort of team Sir Alex Ferguson would field against Blackpool.

But United manager Ferguson opted for a stronger line-up than many pundits had predicted.

Dutch goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, who will retire after the Barcelona game, was handed the captain's armband on his Old Trafford farewell while there were also starts for Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic, Park Ji-Sung and Darren Fletcher who are all expected to feature at Wembley.

Meanwhile the substitutes bench included Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney and Antonio Valencia as Ferguson made a total of nine changes to the side that started the 1-1 draw at Blackburn eight days earlier which sealed a record 19th English title.

Blackpool started the day in the relegation zone on goal difference but they could afford to lose and still stay up if their struggling rivals lost by a bigger margin.

Despite their position, they have established a reputation as an attacking side and it took them fewer than 30 seconds to carve out a glorious opportunity when Charlie Adam picked out Keith Southern with a low cross.

But Southern somehow stabbed it wide with the goal at his mercy before Gary Taylor-Fletcher failed to get contact on another cross by Adam.

United responded through Rafael da Silva, the Brazilian full-back forcing a save from Matthew Gilks with a 20-yard volley before the Blackpool keeper denied Dimitar Berbatov in the eighth minute.

It was only a matter of time before the hosts broke the deadlock, Park displaying excellent composure to clip the ball over Gilks after muscling his way past Ian Evatt following Berbatov's flick.

Blackpool were living dangerously and they were fortunate not to concede a 31st minute penalty when Park was sent sprawling under a challenge by Adam.

But Adam recovered from that slice of fortune to haul his side back into the game as Blackpool showed tremendous character to equalise five minutes before half-time.

Vidic was wrongly adjudged to have fouled Taylor-Fletcher just outside the area, but Adam made the most of the opportunity as he bent the free-kick around the wall and into the net to make it 1-1.

Ferguson reacted by replacing Rafael at the start of the second half with Chris Smalling but Blackpool almost took the lead in the 48th minute through another Adam free-kick, van der Sar this time equal to his fierce effort.

Taylor-Fletcher, against all-odds, made it 2-1 to Blackpool after connecting with David Vaughan's 57th minute cross before Anderson levelled five minutes later with a first-time shot which curled beyond Gilks.

It was downhill all the way for Blackpool after that.

Ian Evatt deflected Smalling's cross beyond his own keeper before substitute Michael Owen ensured United headed for Wembley on a high after a typical finish made it 4-2.

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