Match verdict: Dull game with little action but three great points

Blackpool's Jack Redshaw is mobbed by team-mates as he celebrates Pool's winner from the penalty spot
Blackpool's Jack Redshaw is mobbed by team-mates as he celebrates Pool's winner from the penalty spot
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Describing Saturday’s game is pretty simple – it was one coaches love, but neutrals hate.

While Blackpool’s superb defence won the day in a disciplined display which had boss Neil McDonald purring, it wasn’t half ugly on the eye.

In fact the whole game provided us with just TWO shots on target, both for Blackpool and both from set-pieces.

Crucially, one of them was Jack Redshaw’s penalty, and for that reason Blackpool won’t mind a bit.

Last week we spoke about Pool’s ability to compete in games and that was again clear on Saturday, they came up against one of the division’s top sides and squeezed the living daylight out of any sign of their attacking threat.

The Bloomfield Road pitch helps too. While Stan Raby has done a great job compared to how it was last season, it’s certainly a tricky surface after six games in 22 days in terrible weather lately.

Blackpool’s players know how to deal with the pitch, and are using it to their advantage.

All that said, it wasn’t a pretty game to watch – in fact at times it was as bad as the weather.

In the whole of the second half there wasn’t a single shot on target from either side, particularly after McDonald’s tactical switch which shut up shop on the hour mark.

His decision to go to 5-4-1 for the last half an hour showed the manager had decided points were much more important than performance, and at the moment they are.

But credit is due to a few of Blackpool’s side for the clean sheet, particularly the back four.

Tom Aldred and Will Aimson were superb in the middle both making crucial blocks in the second half to deny goals, while the returning Emmerson Boyce and skipper David Ferguson were rock solid either side of them.

After boasting about having a fully fit squad to chose from at the end of the week, Saturday morning couldn’t have gone much worse for McDonald.

He woke up to calls from two of his regular starting XI informing him of a sickness bug which has swept through the club.

Jim McAlister and Hayden White both missed out, while others reported feeling a little under the weather.

It highlighted just why Pool’s squad is far from complete, and why more work should probably still be done ahead of tonight’s transfer deadline.

In came Boyce and Mark Cullen into the starting line-up, disrupting the side which McDonald had picked for three games running.

The change forced Danny Philliskirk out onto the right-wing, with Cullen pairing Jack Redshaw in attack.

As referee Andrew Madley blew the whistle to start the game we quickly realised this wasn’t going to be one for the light-hearted.

The heavens opened with torrential hailstones in the opening minute, leaving the Bloomfield Road pitch white and one or two of the players looking less than up for it.

It was the sort of weather which made playing very difficult, particularly if you’re a goalkeeper.

And just 30 seconds in, with that in mind, Redshaw had an early effort at goal from distance, luckily for Gills keeper Stuart Nelson it bounced awkwardly wide of the post.

Gillingham are having a great season under Justin Edinburgh and once they’d settled down a little on Saturday they began to show why.

The away side were very comfortably in possession on a trick pitch, with long-haired midfield man Brad Dack involved in everything good they did.

While he played in the hole, he found himself dropping into the left-wing area on a regular basis, whipping in a couple of teasing crosses which were well defended by the Seasiders. Barring that it was a pretty uneventful opening 22 minutes.

As the half hour mark approached neither team had managed a shot on target, even with the referee’s help when Gillingham were handed a free-kick 20 yards from goal for the weakest looking Will Aimson foul on Dominic Samuel.

Luke Norris stepped up with what can only be described as a Cristiano Ronaldo style free-kick – which rattled high and wide into the stand.

The comparison was in technique rather than execution.

In Blackpool’s ranks they have a set-piece specialist of their own in new boy Mark Yeates, and on 42 minutes it was he who provided the game’s first shot on target.

Brad Potts was fouled 25 yards from goal and winger Yeates found the target, only for keeper Nelson to save easily.

This game was almost as bad as the weather.

But then, as the game drifted into injury time in the first half, Blackpool took the lead after Yeates was fouled after wriggling his way into the area.

Redshaw stepped up to side-foot the coolest of penalties into the side-netting, and hand Blackpool a half-time lead.

If the first half started slowly, the second couldn’t have began any quicker for the Seasiders.

Just seconds after the break Philliskirk went down in the area under a challenge from the Gillingham keeper, only for the referee to wave claims away. For me it was a correct call, Nelson got more than enough of the ball.

From the resulting corner Cullen had a golden chance to double Blackpool’s lead, swivelling in the area before poking wide with the goal at his mercy. It was a big chance, but a good strong start for McDonald’s men.

Gillingham were always going to fight back at some point, and they began to show signs just before the hour mark.

A few decent balls into the box caused problems, and it was from one of those they had their best chance of the game.

A half clearance fell to defender Max Ehmer who controlled at the edge of the area and volleyed goal wards only for Tom Aldred to throw himself in the way.

It was what we’d all describe as a typical Aldred block, something which has almost become his trademark this season.

Most of Blackpool’s threat was coming on the counter attack, and it was Cullen’s superb break and cross down the right which saw Redshaw go inches from adding a second goal.

The former Morecambe man dropped off and met a perfect delivery from his strike partner, only for his volley to drift wide.

All of a sudden we had an entertaining game on our hands, and two minutes later it was Gillingham’s turn to threaten.

Samuel burst into the right-hand side of the area only for Aimson to do brilliantly to block his shot at full stretch – superb defending from the youngster.

Despite Pool’s attacking promise, McDonald seemed more intent of protecting what they had with the change on 62 minutes which saw Clark Robertson replace Redshaw, and Pool switch to a 5-4-1 formation.

The plan was clearly to hold onto what they had and restricted Gillingham’s long ball tactic which was putting real pressure on Pool’s back four. While it all but killed off the Seasiders’ attacking threat, with only a long-range Philliskirk effort to note in the final half-hour, you have to say McDonald’s switched 
worked.

If anything it showed how poor League One is this season, you can invite pressure on knowing many players don’t have the ability to break you down in the final third.

It’s something which wouldn’t work in the top two divisions.

But McDonald and his men are now learning how to pick up points, and against the league’s decent sides.

Five points is now the gap between Blackpool at the bottom, three games coming up against sides below them will determine if they are dragged back into the mix.

At home they have a real chance of avoiding it.