Aussie Dougall closes in on Championship return

Kenneth Dougall (L) in action for Blackpool Source: Getty Images

Socceroo hopeful Kenny Dougall is taking nothing for granted as favourites Blackpool take on Oxford United in the playoffs with a promotion place in the English Championship ultimately up for grabs.

Blackpool finished in third spot in League One and will face Oxford on Tuesday night (Wednesday morning Australian time) in the first leg and then on Friday evening (Saturday morning Australian time) in the second leg with a spot at Wembley in the playoff final at stake.

The Seasiders have been in terrific form and head into the match on a four-game winning streak and with just two losses in their past 22 league matches.

Dougall, who joined the Lancashire side in October, has been one of the stars for Blackpool in midfield. The Australian has racked up 37 appearances in all competitions this season and has been a mainstay in the team with the meanest defence in League One.

“I’ve enjoyed this season. It’s been good personally just to get a run of games again after a bit of time out and with Covid,” he told The World Game.

“The season’s been great, I think I joined around round 10 and I’ve played pretty much every game bar a couple. Personally, that’s good for me and I’m feeling fit and ready to go after finishing third, which is a nice achievement for us.

“But obviously it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t go all the way. So that’s our goal, to go all the way, and there’s excitement with the playoffs coming up.”

The Seasiders have played the U’s twice already this season and are unbeaten against them, after securing a 0-0 draw in December and then a 2-0 win in March.

Oxford finished sixth on the ladder, six points below Blackpool, and Dougall says his team is going into the matches feeling positive.

“We took four points from the two games against them, which is good,” the 28-year-old said.

“It gives us some confidence and personally I scored against them last time. It’s exciting times. The playoffs are completely different, the points are out the window and it’s knockout. It’s kind of like a cup competition really from now.

“But our job is to win the game over two leagues. We are confident, we’re always confident and that’s why we finished third. We’re one of the favourites to go up now, especially with Blackpool’s record in the playoffs, everyone seems to be talking about.

“But I’m really excited, I’ve never been through a playoff promotion push like this so for me personally it’s exciting times.”

Dougall hails from Brisbane and spent his junior years with the Samford Rangers, the Queensland Academy of Sport and Brisbane Roar’s youth team.

The former Olyroo, who is also hopeful of winning selection in the Socceroos’ upcoming World Cup qualifiers, believes Blackpool’s tight defence puts them in a great position heading into the playoffs.

The Tangerines have only conceded 37 goals in 46 league games this season, an average of 0.8 goals per game, which is less than every other team in League One, included promoted pair Hull City and Peterborough United.

“Personally, it’s good for the whole team,” Dougall admitted.

“[Chris] Maxwell our keeper got Golden Gloves, so that’s good. Overall I think we got 21 clean sheets and I got 17 of them, so in 34 games I played that’s quite an achievement for me.

“We’ve had a lot of changes defensively and around the pitch with injuries and Covid, so the fact that we’ve been able to keep so many clean sheets and be so good defensively is great for the group.

“Tactically how we’re set up we all know our jobs and if personally, one person falls out another comes in and the team’s no stronger or weaker, we just keep rolling on, which gives us a lot of confidence.”

Dougall has played in the Championship before with Barnsley and is looking forward to the potential prospect of second division football. The first leg against Oxford at the Kassam Stadium will also be the first time the Aussie has played in front of supporters since the UK entered its first lockdown in mid-March in 2020.

“That’s an exciting thing,” he said.

“March was the first lockdown here so it’s been over a year since we’ve had fans. So it will be a bit strange, it’s limited fans so not that many. But it’s exciting for them and exciting for us.

“Some of our players have never played in front of fans, so it will be good for them. Playing behind closed doors was at times a little bit dull, a bit like a training game.

“But with fans back, football’s back and we’re ready to go.”