Ian Holloway has never been a predictable manager. However he raised a few eyebrows even further among Tangerine supporters by bringing Kevin Phillips to the club in the summer. Bare in mind Blackpool had just lost DJ Campbell after their relegation from the Premiership, as he signed for QPR following his successful 13-goal season.
Phillips had just been released by Birmingham after a decent spell at St Andrews, providing Alex McLeish with a super-sub option off the bench in important matches. With the Blues relegated alongside Blackpool though, the decision was made not to retain the 38-year-old’s contract, allowing Phillips to head north to Bloomfield Road.
Once again, ‘King Kev’ has continued to defy the ageing process and prove himself a valuable member of Ian Holloway’s squad. He has notched 16 goals this season in the Championship; a remarkable return that puts him joint third with Leeds’s Ross McCormack in the division’s scoring charts, behind Ricardo Vaz Te of West Ham and obviously,Southampton’s sensational Rickie Lambert.
This figure is more astonishing considering how sparingly Holloway has used him. Phillips has divided his time between the starting XI and the bench, making 19 starts and 17 substitute appearances in the Championship, but he has proved he still has the knack of grabbing late goals for his side after coming on. Between January and February, Phillips came off the bench four times and bagged three winners and one equaliser in the FA Cup clash with Sheffield Wednesday, highlighting exactly why he is a crucial part of Blackpool’s promotion challenge. His fox-in-the-box style has seen him score 271 goals in an illustrious career and he has perfected the technique that Gary Lineker made famous in the 1980’s, using his positioning to get into areas where chances arrive.
It’s something Phillips has done throughout his career; indeed the diminutive frontman has never exactly been blessed with blistering pace. He started his career at Watford before moving on to Sunderland for a fee that reached £600,000. This proved to be money very well spent by the Black Cats, as Phillips netted 35 goals in all competitions during his first season at the club, scoring in seven consecutive league games along the way. Although the season finale finished in disappointment, as Sunderland lost that famous playoff final clash with Charlton, losing 7-6 on penalties after a 4-4 draw, success was to come the following year. Sunderland earned promotion to the top flight in the 1998/99 season and Phillips was the main catalyst behind that effort, scoring 23 times in 26 games, earning him a first England call-up, resulting in a debut against Hungary.
Upon Sunderland and Phillips’s arrival in the Premier League, they were expected to struggle, with Rodney Marsh famously predicting that Phillips would struggle to score six goals. He shoved that particular criticism down the pundit’s throat, as Kev went onto notch 30 times as Sunderland finished in seventh position. This figure earned him the Premiership and European Golden Boots, ahead of a host of household names, while Phillips is still the only Englishman to win the latter. Although he never quite reached these heights again, his return of 115 goals in 209 league games for Sunderland was an astonishing effort for a man who people continued to criticise.
With Sunderland struggling financially, Phillips was sold to Southampton for £3.25 million, but although the striker remained a regular name on the Saints’ scoresheet, his time on the South Coast wasn’t particularly successful and ended in relegation in 2005, where Phillips promptly joined Aston Villa. A string of injuries saw the forward struggle to gain a first team place and he cut short his stay at Villa Park to sign for Midlands rivals West Brom in 2006, who, at the time, were languishing in the Championship.
After notching his 200th career goal that year, Phillips went on to bag 22 goals in all competitions, but again missed out in the playoff final as the Baggies lost 1-0 to Derby County. The 2007/08 season proved just how good Phillips was in England’s second division as he finished as the Championship’s second top scorer with 24 goals in 30 games. ‘Super Kev’ helped West Brom back into the Premiership as champions and the forward himself was named ‘Championship Player of the Year.’
However, a dispute over the length of his next contract saw him wrack up his third Midlands club in as many years as he chose to stay in the Championship with recently relegated Birmingham City. Once again, Phillips provided the magic touch at that level, winning the club’s top scorer award with 14 goals as the Blues were promoted at the first time of asking. He became a bit-part player during the club’s two Premiership campaigns, though he did pick up his first major piece of silverware as an unused substitute duringBirmingham’s League Cup victory over Arsenal.
Although Kev has only played eight times for England and never scored for his country, he has undoubtedly demonstrated his value to several clubs over the years. Promotion from the Championship has proved to be his forte, achieving that with three clubs so far. Holloway and Blackpool are desperately hoping that Phillips’s goals can make that four, with the Tangerines sitting fifth in the table with four games to go. Phillips himself told the Blackpool Gazette winning promotion would be one of the greatest achievements of his career and that “It would be fantastic to help Blackpool back to the Premier League.” We all want to see Ollie and his boys back on Match of the Day and who knows; maybe with a soon-to-be 39-year-old veteran leading the line. Don’t underestimate Kevin Phillips.