MATCH REPORT: Blackpool 3-2 Luton

Hat-trick hero Mark Cullen celebrates his first goal
Hat-trick hero Mark Cullen celebrates his first goal
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Mark Cullen was the hat-trick hero as Blackpool beat Luton Town 3-2 in a pulsating first leg of their play-off semi final.

The Seasiders have made a habit of being involved in high-scoring, entertaining play-off games down the years and that trend continued at Bloomfield Road in front of the television cameras.

Gary Bowyer’s men, who had taken an early lead, fought back from 2-1 down to take a narrow lead into Thursday night’s second leg at Kenilworth Road.

Just 90 minutes now separates them from yet another Wembley final.

As perhaps was to be expected in a game of this magnitude, there was a tense opening to proceedings.with neither side willing to take any early risks.

In fact, for those watching at home on television, the first talking point would have been the anti-Oyston chants that rang out from the away end while the game was briefly stopped while a Luton player received treatment.

Attention soon turned to the goalmouth action though, with Kyle Vassell having a shot charged down after a free kick had been swung into the visitors’ box.

Luton soon began to win the vast majority of second balls which saw them take control of the game, and they almost took advantage when the dangerous Isaac Vassell let fly at goal only to be denied by a crucial block from Tom Aldred.

The game was probably in need of a goal and 20 minutes in, Blackpool got one although it was fair to say it came against the run of play.

The goal came from Mark Cullen, whose drilled effort somehow trickled over the line after the in-form striker was played in by striker partner Kyle Vassell.

Not only was it a crucial goal against Cullen’s former club, but it was also his seventh goal in his last 13 games.

The Seasiders, clearly buoyed by their early goal, went in search of an immediate second and almost got one as Neil Danns let go from range - only to see his drilled effort well saved by Stuart Moore.

They were soon made to pay for their miss as the Hatters got back on level terms through Dan Potts, whose close-range shot hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced over the line.

Both sides were clearly intent on taking the game to their opponents, with the hosts almost retaking the lead through Kyle Vassell who clipped the top of the crossbar with an ambitious effort from range.

But it was Luton who took the lead, just two minutes after netting their equaliser, as Isaac Vassell turned and shot past Sam Slocombe at his near post.

The visitors seemed content to sit on their lead in the final stages of the first half which only served to invite pressure on themselves.

This saw Kyle Vassell and Brad Potts bring out good saves from Stuart Moore. Pool almost equalised on the stroke of half time as the ball fell kindly to Kelvin Mellor at the back post with the goal gaping but Alan Sheehan recovered well to make a crucial block.

Blackpool made a blistering start to the second half and got back on level terms thanks to a sumptuous effort from Cullen, who bagged his second with a curling effort that flew into the top corner from 25 yards out.

The Seasiders were a completely different animal to the Blackpool side we saw in the first half, and they almost added a third when Kyle Vassell was denied by Scott Cuthbert just as he was preparing to unleash a shot.

The chances continued to reign on the Luton goal - one of which fell to Clark Robertson who could only stab over from close range.

The hosts continued their second half domination and almost came close to scoring again when Tom Aldred rose highest from a free kick to head across goal, only for the visitors to clear.

Gary Bowyer’s side were given a priceless opportunity to take advantage of their domination when they were awarded a blatant penalty kick after Scott Cuthbert hauled Aldred to the floor.

Cullen stepped up, sent the goalkeeper the wrong way and wrapped up his hat-trick in the process.

Luton pressed forward in the final stages for an equaliser but Blackpool stood firm to see out the rest of the game.

The away fans thought they had a good shout for a penalty when Danny Hylton went down in the box but the referee waved away the appeals.

Sheehan then came close with an acrobatic volley in the 89th minute of time which, thankfully for Pool, dropped just wide of goal.

Luton's last chance came via a goalmouth scramble which somehow ended in the grateful arms of Slocombe.

Blackpool: Slocombe, Mellor, Aimson, Aldred, Robertson, Taylor, Danns (Flores), Payne, Potts, Cullen (Black), Vassell (Delfouneso)

Subs not used: Lyness, Nolan, Osayi-Samuel, Gnanduillet

Luton: Moore, Justin, Rea, Cuthbert, Sheehan, Potts, Ruddock-Mpanzu, D’Ath (Palmer), Lee, Vassell (Marriott), Hylton

Subs not used: King, O'Donnell, Smith, Gray, Gambin

Referee: Nigel Miller

Attendance: 3,882 (1,648 Luton)