Match report: Port Vale 1 Blackpool 2

Blackpool manager Neil McDonald
Blackpool manager Neil McDonald
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The Blackpool FC juggernaut just keeps on going, they literally can’t stop winning.

OK, there might be a huge amount of sarcasm in that sentence, but you can’t take it away from the Seasiders and winning certainly isn’t a bad habit.

If you’d have told me, or any other Pool observer, stood at the side of the pitch at Shrewsbury Neil McDonald’s men would win their next three games not one would have believed you.

It was impossible back then, Blackpool were dreadful, miles off and at rock bottom.

But this young squad deserves huge credit for the way they have responded from that verbal hammering from their boss, not one of us saw it coming.

Just 121 Blackpool fans bothered making the trip although there’s probably more than one reason for that.

While I’m not sure this game would have seen thousands braving the M6 with rain battering the North West, the fact 45% of gate money went to the Seasiders put off many of the protesting supporters.

And when the team sheets were handed out at Vale Park an hour before the game, you could probably see why people hadn’t bothered.

I asked Neil McDonald after the game on Saturday if he’d be taking the JPT game seriously and his answer was a little vague.

Well the team selection showed he was right at the bottom of his Pool priority list.

After two wins on the bounce and Saturday’s game at Bradford already postponed, McDonald may have been tempted to allow as many of his team to play for continuity. Instead he made eight changes.

Quite how Pool will get around the ‘maximum six changes’ JPT rule I’m not sure, but it didn’t deter Pool.

Out went star man Brad Potts, Emmerson Boyce, David Ferguson, Henry Cameron, David Norris, Jack Redshaw, Mark Cullen and Jim McAlister - basically almost all of his most impressive performers so far.

In came Charles Dunne, Jarrett Rivers, Connor Oliver, Kwame Thomas, Martin Paterson, Bright Samuel, Jose Cubero and youngster Luke Higham for his first start in a Blackpool shirt.

And McDonald will probably once again have a pretty smug look on his face this morning, you have to say his changes worked.

Cubero set-up both goals, Rivers fired his first for the club, Thomas was a pest all night and Dunne probably turned in his best display for the club.

I’ve been the first to question Dunne’s performances in the past, but he was excellent last night.

While the JPT ends at Wembley in a fair bit of excitement, the early rounds do little to spark the imagination of fans.

And the atmosphere inside Vale Park probably suggested the locals weren’t too interested, infact it took nine minutes for even the slightest of noise.

Striker Louis Dodds found space at the edge of the box for Vale before curling just wide. In truth Colin Doyle had it well covered.

In the opening ten minutes there had been very little action in tangerine, although Paterson had a sniff of goal on 12 minutes.

Making his first start the former Stoke trainee met a Rivers right-wing cross and turned it over on the volley.

In truth it was no more than a half chance, but Paterson looked lively with his movement if nothing else.

The chances opened the game up a little and a minute later Port Vale should have taken the lead with a neat counter attack.

Bryan Moore burst into the box and unselfishly teed-up Colin Daniel who fired wide - he really should have hit the target at the very least.

A deadly quiet game burst into life, and two minutes later Blackpool had a huge chance of their own when Thomas powered a header goalwards from a Cubero cross, only for Anthony Grant to do brilliantly on the line to beat it away.

From where I was sat it could be argued the ball crossed the line, but the linesman on the near side was well placed and his flag stayed down.

Sadly the excitement wouldn’t last, and after such a bright start the game died down for the next ten minutes before worrying scenes saw a ten minute delay.

Vale defender Remie Streete clashed heads with Thomas before being stretchered off, the medical staff at Vale Park took plenty of time to make sure he was OK, there wasn’t a person inside the stadium complaining. Hopefully the injury wasn’t as serious as it appeared.

The delay gave Blackpool plenty of time to think and regroup, and they took advantage almost instantly, taking the lead just a minute after the restart.

Thomas did brilliantly on the right wing and after a mazy run picked out Rivers who opened his body up 12 yards from goal and curled it past Jak Alnwick. It was Rivers’ first ever league goal, not that you’d know it from such a superb finish.

After a delayed ending to the first half, and 12 minutes of stoppage time you could probably forgive either side for a slow start to the second.

But for Vale they almost found away back into the game when Enoch Andoh cut in from the left and drove a powerful effort past Doyle’s post.

The tiny winger was lively all evening, it was a real test for young Higham up against him, but one he handled well.

While on the wing he was being contained well enough, sadly Blackpool weren’t able to keep him quiet down the middle.

And on 51 minutes it was he who broke in between Higham and Clark Robertson into the box, before being hauled down just as he was about to shoot at goal.

Referee Mark Heywood could easily have sent Robertson off, instead he opted for a booking - a let-off.

Grant wasn’t so forgiving from the spot, and he send Doyle the wrong way to level the scoring.

The referee’s decision not to send off Robertson proved vital just two minutes later when the defender headed Blackpool back into the lead.

The Scotsman showed real desire to power home a Cubero corner off the underside of the bar.

While it looked like Blackpool would collapse after Vale’s goal, to their credit they did the total opposite and Robertson probably deserved a goal for his efforts, he was a rock at the back all evening.

On 69 minutes it was the Seasiders who almost added a third, twice in a minute.

First the lively Thomas nipped in to poke the ball passed the keeper in the area, only for it to drift agonisingly into the side netting, before another superb Cubero delivery somehow evaded everyone in the box.

Cubero hasn’t been nearly as impressive as he should have been this season so far, but his delivery last night from set-pieces causes really problems.

For the next 15 minutes you have to say Blackpool coped well with everything Vale threw at them, to McDonald’s credit there’s a real solid look to their shape.

It’s taken a while for the manager to settle on a formation, something which I’m not sure helped earlier in the season, but the 4-4-2 they now employ is now well drilled.

That said, Pool did end the game with just one up front, after McDonald switched the tiring Paterson for John Herron.

Wembley is a long way away, but for the time being Blackpool are flying.