When Ellis Simms joined Blackpool on loan from Everton in January, the Tangerines were languishing in the bottom half of Sky Bet League One.
Twenty four games and a double-figure goals haul later, the 20-year-old striker had helped the Seasiders to a third-place finish and later produced a Man of the Match performance in the first leg of their Play-Off Semi-Final against Oxford United. Not bad for a player enjoying his first taste of men’s professional football.
“Did I imagine I’d have this much of an impact? No, not really,” says the man himself, smiling. Simms deservedly earned widespread praise for his Semi-Final displays, scoring twice at the Kassam Stadium.
“When I first signed for Blackpool, I just came here for the experience, really. I wanted to get some senior minutes under my belt.
“I just wanted to play as much as I can, while obviously adding goals and performances, in order to help the team. I've started to do that now and I'm improving week by week, but to score 10 goals really has been incredible for me. Of course, to get to Wembley is a remarkable achievement too.
“Considering that, when I first joined, we were kind of in a mid-table battle, it's really been a dream come true for me and the team. We’ve come such a long way, and to get double digits in such a short space of time has been incredible. “
A star man in Everton’s youth ranks over recent seasons, Simms’ career is one which Blackpool manager Neil Critchley has followed closely.
Critchley came up against the Toffees many times during his time as Liverpool Under-23s manager, and Simms admits the chance to link up with a man who helped bring through the likes of England star Trent Alexander-Arnold was too good an opportunity to turn down.
“I knew he was a great manager, so I knew when I came here I could learn a lot from him,” he adds. The 42-year-old is one of just 16 coaches worldwide to have obtained UEFA's ‘elite badge’.
“On the training ground, he’s really helped teach me a lot of new things that I might not have learned back at Everton, so it's all part of the experience and I'm loving working under him.
“His tactics are brilliant and I’m just so grateful that I get that chance to learn new things day in, day out.”
Simms has yet to make a senior appearance at Goodison Park, but has already set himself on a pathway so familiar to some of the country’s biggest football stars.
The vast majority of the most recent England squad have either started their careers, or made their breakthrough on loan at EFL Clubs. The importance of that pathway is not lost on Simms, who is hoping that he can enjoy similar success by continuing to make his mark at Blackpool.
“The loan for me was just so I could showcase what I'm all about. I had been doing really well in the Under-23s this season, but I was ready to take the next step up.
“Obviously, coming here to Blackpool was a massive challenge – I’m playing against men, with different styles of play. So it's all part of the experience and the main objective was just to improve my overall game.
“Some of the centre-backs might not be as quick as in the Under-23s, so they might try to use their weight more. They’re so much stronger than what I was used to! They’ll also be a bit cleverer and block your runs and your movements.
“There are so many different tactics as well. For example, some teams like to play long throw-ins, so it's obviously a new experience and just different styles of play. Some teams are more direct, some teams like to play a little bit, so it's just getting used to the different scenarios and those different variations.”
Simms certainly has thrived in Sky Bet League One, and at no point did he showcase that more than in the first leg of the Play-Off Semi-Finals just 12 days ago.
His double included great skill for his first and incredible speed and link-up play for his second, in the eventual 3-0 win over the U’s. It was also the first time he played in front of a crowd for the Tangerines, an experience he enjoyed, despite the lack of away supporters.
“I knew, playing away at Oxford, there would be no Blackpool fans there so I just had to embrace it,” he says. “I just focused on my normal game and it eased the pressure on me a bit in a way, as there wasn’t this weight of expectation, so I felt like I thrived on it.
“The second leg was a completely different experience to that and was incredible, even though I didn’t get the goals. To hear those Blackpool fans was honestly amazing, as they were just so loud. My family were at the game too, which was really nice.
“It's the first time that they’ve been in a stadium with fans watching me, so it was a proud moment for them. It was a bit more intense for me though, and a lot more pressure than there was in the first leg.
“But listen, it was great to finally play in front of those Blackpool fans in general and hopefully the whole team can embrace that support at Wembley today. It will be an incredible atmosphere and a dream to play in a final like this for me. It’s what your ambition is, to play in this sort of game – it’s why you want to play football in the first place, and now it’s about finishing off the job.”