Blackpool 2, Cheltenham 1
There can’t have been many Blackpool wins greeted with such a relative lack of fanfare - including those in the recent less than vintage seasons.
Welcome to the new Checkatrade Trophy, a competition written off before a ball was even kicked.
Combine group stages, selection criteria and - above all - the invites to 16 category one Academy sides and there’s the recipe for a thoroughly depressing night like that witnessed at Bloomfield Road.
If the opening night is anything to go by, there are an awful lot of sceptics who need to be convinced the competition has a future as bright as the thousands of empty orange seats on show.
Those critical of the replacement competition for the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy would have had a field day at Bloomfield Road last night.
A sub-1,000 crowd and two teams whose combined changes from the weekend ran into double figures showed the level of backing on and off the field.
Certainly the fans’ response to the new competition can be summed up quite easily; the level of demand was such that only one stand was open to supporters.
Cheltenham brought somewhere in the region of 70 followers, while the home support filled the best part of one-and-a-half blocks of seating.
Those who did turn up saw the Seasiders claim the spoils thanks to Kyle Vassell’s quickfire second-half double after James Jennings’ 20th minute strike had put the visitors in front.
In keeping with the rules - and through gritted teeth if last Saturday’s post-match press conference was anything to go by - Seasiders’ boss Gary Bowyer stuck with five of the starting line-up beaten by Plymouth Argyle.
Clark Robertson, Brad Potts, Mark Cullen, Colin Daniel and Armand Gnanduillet were the men to receive another runout as the Seasiders completed their eighth game in three-and-a-half weeks.
Kyle Letheren’s departure meant Sam Slocombe had to sit on the bench alongside Kyle Vassell, Henry Cameron, Bright Osayi-Samuel and Jack Payne.
In contrast, Kelvin Mellor, Andy Taylor, Jim McAlister, Tom Aldred and Danny Pugh were given the night off altogether.
Myles Boney was handed his first senior start in goal with Eddie Nolan, Mark Yeates, Luke Higham and Michael Cain pressed into
It meant Gnanduillet and Cullen started up front with another chance to develop the partnership which showed such promising signs against Plymouth Argyle.
Nolan, Aimson and Higham slotted into the back four with Robertson, while Yeates and Cain joined Potts and Daniel in midfield.
It meant Bowyer’s players were outnumbered in the centre of midfield where the visitors had three men to the Seasiders’ two with Danny Whitehead, Harry Pell and Jonny Smith the men in question.
Town boss Gary Johnson, who made seven changes from the side which started on Saturday, went in with a back three of Rob Dickie, Daniel Parslow and Daniel O’Shaughnessy.
That put extra emphasis on his wing-back pairing of Jennings and Jack Barthram to provide width and get crosses in for their front pairing of Kobi Arthur and Amari Morgan-Smith.
It was the latter who had Cheltenham’s first opportunity, firing over from 20 yards inside the opening couple of minutes.
The Seasiders, however, grew into the game and had a hat-trick of presentable chances to open the
Cullen got into the area and laid the ball back for Yeates, whose goalbound effort was blocked, seconds before Cullen headed over from Nolan’s cross.
The striker was even more profligate on 13 minutes, again heading off target from six yards after Yeates had fashioned space for himself on the left-hand side.
That was as good as it got for Bowyer’s players in the opening 45 minutes as the visitors began to assert themselves with Morgan-Smith and Arthur proving a handful for the home defence.
Arthur shot narrowly wide of Boney’s left-hand upright before Jennings broke the deadlock.
Excellent play from Harry Pell saw him accelerate into the area before cutting the ball back for Jennings to tap home from inside the six-yard box.
Smith’s dipping effort didn’t come down in time to catch out Boney, while Gnanduillet muscled his way through but was denied by the onrushing Calum Kitscha.
Both managers took the opportunity to rotate at half-time with two changes apiece.
James Rowe and Asa Hall replaced Pell and O’Shaughnessy for the visitors; however it was Bowyer’s changes which had the telling impact as Vassell came on for Gnanduillet and Potts was replaced by Jack Payne.
It was the visitors who had the first opportunities of the second half with Boney pushing out Jennings’ free kick before holding Smith’s shot at the second attempt.
Vassell, however, needed only 10 minutes to make an impact with his side’s equaliser.
Yeates advanced down the left before cutting inside and rolling the ball across for
Vassell to finish with a low strike.
Two minutes later and he was on the mark again, this time tapping home after Cullen had fired the ball across the face of goal.
He could have had a 10-minute hat-trick after Cullen sent Nolan away on the overlap but Vassell’s near post volley was blocked by a defender.
Vassell also fired off target after a free kick wasn’t cleared and Yeates curled an effort straight at Kitscha as the Seasiders sought a third.
However, as the game went into its later stages, it was the visitors who rallied once more in the hope of forcing penalties.
Hall fired inches wide from 25 yards and Morgan-Smith thought he should have had a penalty when he went down under pressure from Robertson - only for referee Ben Toner to rule it was the striker in the wrong.
There was still time for Boney to thwart Arthur in added time as Pool ran out winners - though it may not be one which lives long in the memory.