Colchester 2 Blackpool 2

Neil McDonald

Neil McDonald

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Two debut Mark Cullen goals earned Blackpool a point, but they had to survive a difficult second half at Colchester.

The striker’s two first half efforts were matched by a Alex Gilbey screamer and a Darren Ambrose second half finish.

Being so far away from the troubled waters of Blackpool was probably a perfect place for Neil McDonald to start life as manager, and the conditions down in Essex couldn’t have been any better.

On a lovely afternoon and a carpet of a pitch, the new boss decided to hand eight debuts with his starting eleven, although there was one slight surprise.

Despite returning from a successful summer with Costa Rica, Jose Cubero was only named on the bench.

As predicted Colin Doyle took the number one spot ahead of Kyle Letheran, and he was behind an almost whole new Blackpool back four.

Emmerson Boyce, who joined just three days before the kick-off, was joined by Clark Robertson, Lloyd Jones and skipper David Ferguson.

Youngsters Henry Cameron and Bright Samuel were rewarded for their good pre-season form with starts on the wings, while Mark Cullen and Jack Redshaw led the line.

After all the off-the-field issues which have dominated talk, it was a relief to finally see the football start as referee James Linington got things going.

One of McDonald’s big things this summer has been positivity, and his Blackpool side certainly started the game in confident fashion.

McDonald’s men were on the front foot from the off, although the game’s first chance fell to the home side when George Moncur forced a simple enough save from Doyle.

The 600 Pool fans behind the goal were in fine voice, mixing support for their side with constant protests against the club’s owners.

And on seven minutes they almost had a sensational moment to cheer about, and a nomination for goal of the season.

Striker Redshaw picked up the ball just over the half-way line jinking past a couple of defender and playing a one-two with Samuel before poking his finish just wide.

He probably should have at least hit the target but after such a superb run we’ll forgive him.

Eight minutes later came a moment we perhaps should be a little less sympathetic about when Redshaw should have put Pool ahead.

Cameron capitalised on a slip from full-back Matt Briggs to burst forward and centre a perfect pass into the path of Redshaw who scuffed his back post effort with an empty goal at his mercy. Luckily it was quickly forgotten as Blackpool were soon ahead.

Samuel burst down the left and cut a brilliant ball into the path of Cullen who had the easiest of finishes from three yards.

While it looked a simple goal, the striker’s movement was superb in the build-up.

Blackpool’s young guns were playing with a real confidence about them, and could have doubled their lead five minutes later when Potts burst into the box before seeing his effort deflected just over.

It was the away side who looked most likely, but it was Colchester who got the game’s next goal, and in stunning fashion too.

Jones’ defensive header was nudged into the path of Alex Gilbey who, on the half volley, blasted an effort into the top corner.

It was against the run of play, and certainly knocked the stuffing right out of McDonald’s men.

Ironicaly the Seasiders conceded an almost identical goal in their friendly against Accrington last week - it would appear lightning does strike twice.

As the half went on the home side grew in confidence with Chris Porter shaving the crossbar soon after with a five yard header.

With the break minutes away the game once again burst into life.

Pool had keeper Doyle to thank on 44 minutes as he did brilliantly to deny the lively Gavin Massey after he was fed in by Porter.

A huge save and one which boosted Pool to take a lead into the break, as Cullen found his second of the game.

The striker picked up the ball on the left and cut inside at the edge of the box before drilling a superb low effort past former Pool keeper Elliott Parish.

It was the perfect boost for Pool and came right on the half-time whistle.

Sadly it was the home side who seemed to be given a shot in the arm by the goal, and it was Tony Humes’ side who started the better after the break.

Colchester were getting far too much space and time on the ball, prompting McDonald to introduce a third midfielder in the form of Cubero.

Sadly seconds later the home side were level.

It was made by Massey who was causing David Ferguson all sorts of problems down the left, and his cross was well finished by Darren Ambrose from eight yards.

The goal was well deserved for the home side, and it was the start of a pretty uncomfortable end to the game for McDonald’s men.

Barring a couple of long range efforts from Potts, Blackpool found it difficult to gain momentum in the final third, and had their keeper to thank for keeping them level.

With quarter of an hour to go Doyle once again saved Pool, but hurt himself in the process.

A mistake from Cubero in the middle of the park allowed Massey a free run in on goal, only for Doyle to once again stand strong and beat the effort away.

Sadly the Irish keeper looked to dislocate his shoulder in the process, to be replaced by Kyle Letheran.

Colchester could have won it late on, particularly when George Moncur went close in stoppage time.

It was a game of two halves, in the end, with Colchester probably considering themselves hard done by not to come away with the win.

As the final whistle went Pool’s players and manager celebrated in front of the travelling fans, you got the feeling they were delighted with a well earned point.