Blackpool manager Neil Critchley says winning promotion to the Sky Bet Championship justified his decision to leave Liverpool.
Critchley walked away from his job as the Reds’ Under-23s manager in March 2020 and, in his first full season in charge, took the Seasiders back to the second tier for the first time in six years with a 2-1 League One play-off final win over Lincoln.
The day started horribly for them when Ollie Turton put through his own net after just 48 seconds, but two Kenny Dougall goals either side of half-time deservedly won it for Blackpool.
The 42-year-old was in a secure job at the Anfield club but wanted to test himself and winning promotion has exceeded his expectations.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would end at Wembley with an occasion like this,” he said.
“It was a reason why I left Liverpool because I wanted to taste senior football management, the highs and lows, the journey and it has been a special day.
“They say there is no better way than going up than winning at Wembley. I would have swapped with Grant McCann or Darren Ferguson at Hull or Peterborough after 48 seconds but I can assure you when the final whistle went I have never felt emotion like that before and it was an incredible feeling.
“It is a great, great season. I couldn’t be prouder.”
Blackpool’s plans for the showpiece game were thrown into disarray when striker Ellis Simms suffered an injury in the final training session.
Critchley said he had to revise his plan of attack.
“We have had a lot to deal with in the last 24 hours because of circumstances out of our control,” he added.
“Ellis has been a top performer, even recently the goals he has scored and the way he has led the line.
“We practised all week with him in the team, for him to suffer that the last kick of the last session the day before Wembley was heartbreak for him and us.
“We have had to do that during the season, we have had to be adaptable. The reward the players have got is incredible. We are deserving of going up.”
Lincoln were dreaming of a third promotion in six years and could not have hoped for a better start after they went in front after just 48 seconds.
Boss Michael Appleton, who used to manage Blackpool, felt his side might have gone in front too early, but says they have to use this defeat as motivation.
“No one wants to lose a play-off final,” he said. We got off to a decent start, maybe too good of a start.
“We had moments, but we were playing against a really motivated side who have been on a fantastic run since the turn of the year.
“We gave them an OK game but that doesn’t win you finals. I am not going to be critical of the players for what they have produced over the season.
“We have fell short at the final hurdle, sometimes you need to do that to get over the line.
“If we don’t use this as an example to try and push forward and be in these type of games on a regular basis then there is something wrong.”