Blackpool 2-1 Exeter City: Five things we learned
Blackpool FC writer Matt Scrafton takes a look at the key talking points from the Seasiders' history-making League Two play-off final win at Wembley.
It was a fully deserved victory
Paul Tisdale's Exeter side may have dominated possession (64%) at Wembley, but their supporters can have little complaints with their defeat, as gut-wrenching as it would have been. For all of the Grecians' ball retention, they struggled to create many clear-cut chances and they only mustered two shots on target. That is all credit to Blackpool for the manner in which they played in their set piece final. They came firing out of the blocks and took the lead inside 130 seconds thanks to Brad Potts' smart finish, but instead of building on their lead they sat back and invited pressure on themselves. That was a bad idea and the pressure eventually told when Exeter equalised five minutes before half time through David Wheeler's well-taken lob. Gary Bowyer's half-time team talk was obviously right on the money though because Blackpool were pretty much in total control of the second half and deservedly clinched the win thanks to in-form striker Mark Cullen, who found the back of the net after getting the slightest of touches to Potts' pullback. Que jubilant scenes in the Blackpool end as the players and management team celebrated with the trophy as the club returned to League One at the first attempt - a great achievement from Bowyer and the players given what had come before.
Blackpool's resilience came to the fore
After Blackpool's remarkable second-leg win at Kenilworth Road, Bowyer remarked that his team looked like the "walking wounded" with at least five of his players picking up knocks. One of those was captain Andy Taylor, who was forced to miss Blackpool's Wembley final. Another one was Tom Aldred, who believed he was fit enough to start in the final only to trudge off while holding back the tears when he was substituted through injury just half an hour in. Aldred has been a rock at the heart of Pool's defence all season and many anticipated his absence would have been keenly felt for the rest of the game - especially when the Seasiders were forced into a tactical change, reverting from a back three to a back four. While it was far from ideal to have their pre-match preparations disrupted so early on, the players rallied round each other and battled through to earn the win they so thoroughly deserved. Bowyer's team deserve huge credit for showing the flexibility to work in different formations with different personnel, which has been a key factor in their success in the latter weeks of the season. The centre back pairing of Clark Robertson and Will Aimson deserve praise for stepping up to the plate in the absence of Aldred by keeping Exeter's undoubted attacking ability as quiet as possible.
Mark Cullen's end-of-season form was key
Blackpool's play-off campaign was obviously a team effort but if we're focusing on individuals, you can't look any further than Mark Cullen. The striker netted four times in Blackpool's three play-off ties - with three coming in the semi-final first leg against his old team Luton - while he also provided three vital assists. Before that Cullen had also scored in Pool's 3-1 win against Leyton Orient on the last day of the season, a win that clinched their spot in the play-offs. Cullen has endured a frustrating season at times - and he would be the first to admit that - with starts few and far between. But he's shown professionalism and patience to wait for an opportunity to come his way, and once it did he grabbed it with both hands by scoring 10 times in his last 15 games to fire Blackpool to the third tier of English football. Taking that into consideration, it was no surprise that he was the man to grab the winning goal at Wembley. A word also for Brad Potts, who put in a Man of the Match display at the national stadium who, having scored early on after being set up by Cullen, turned provider by crossing for the striker to tap home.
Pool turn up on the big occasion...again!
Some things are just meant to go together, aren't they? I'm thinking salt and pepper, black and white and Ant and Dec. Now you can add Blackpool and play-off victories to the list. Five successes from eight attempts is quite simply an extraordinary statistic and means the club is now out on their own as the most successful English side in play-off history. What's the secret to their success? It's hard to say, but having experienced players who turn up on the big occasion obviously helps. Just take a look at the names who have starred and scored in Pool's previous play-off successes. Blackpool's mentality in the play-offs has always been just to go out and play their normal game and that tactic has clearly paid dividends time and time again. Some might argue that Pool's play-off record just goes to show they haven't been good enough to win titles, but we all know if there's one way to clinch promotion - it's to do it at the iconic Wembley Stadium. That feeling can't be beaten.
A bittersweet victory
This should have been a moment to savour for ALL Blackpool fans, not just a small pocket of 5,000 or so that celebrated wildly when the final whistle was blown. For the rest, they've been robbed of that opportunity. I can only imagine how angry and upset the boycotting fans were when the Blackpool players walked out into a stadium dominated by Exeter City supporters. To not support their team in a promotion decider at the home of football shows just how principled the boycotters are. This is more than one game. Heck, it's more than one season. It's about the future of THEIR football club. Who knows how promotion will alter things. Are the Oystons more or less likely to leave? It's impossible to say. All I do know is that it's incredibly sad to see this great club disunited at such a time as this. While yesterday's win was Blackpool's deciding moment of the season on the pitch, off it we have a court case of cup final proportions that is just days away.