Blackpool 3-2 Solihull Moors: Matt Scrafton's match verdict from thrilling FA Cup encounter
Blackpool might have made hard work of getting past Solihull Moors last night but they got the job done, and ultimately that's all that matters.
Anyone expecting anything other than the toughest of tests against Solihull were given a rude awakening at Bloomfield Road.
As predicted, Solihull made it just as difficult for Blackpool as they did in the original clash, if not more so.
Tim Flowers’ outfit are far from your average ‘plucky’ non-league side. Prior to last night, they had only conceded twice in their last nine outings. Despite losing last night, it was just their second defeat in 17.
And how often do you see sides produce 25 attempts on goal away from home, as Solihull did last night?
So the chances of a routine 3-0 home win always appeared slim. The only thing that mattered was the end result, getting through and setting up that third round tie with Arsenal. In that respect, it was job done.
Pool showed spirit and doggedness to stay in the match, especially in the second half where - for large swathes - they were second best.
The Seasiders were arguably second best in the first half, too, but they showed a clinical touch to race into a two-goal lead.
Having to do plenty of defending in the early stages, Pool remained a threat on the counter and that’s how their second goal came, a well-taken finish from Joe Dodoo from Marc Bola’s clever pullback.
That came after Armand Gnanduillet, who later cut a frustrated figure in attack after his strike partner Dodoo hobbled off with an injury, had earlier handed Pool the lead with a close-range volley from Jordan Thompson’s corner.
Solihull were unfortunate to be behind, never mind by a two-goal margin. But they remained undeterred and were relentless in their drive to get back in the game.
They get the ball in your box from all angles, but they do it well. It’s not just a case of lumping it aimlessly forwards, their deliveries from set pieces are always bang on the money and threatening and their front men never give you a moment’s rest.
During that second half, having earlier reduced the deficit courtesy of Adi Yussuf’s glancing header, Solihull had Pool pinned in their box for much of the time.
But Terry McPhillips’ men defended well and stuck at it. The back three of Ben Heneghan, Donervon Daniels and Curtis Tilt started the game a little nervously and initially struggled with Solihull’s aerial bombardment, but they all grew as the game wore on and made some crucial blocks and tackles to keep their side in it.
In League One, Blackpool tend to be at their best when they’re able to simply blow sides away with their pace, brute strength and superior physicality.
But in Solihull, they didn’t just meet their match, they came up against a side who were taller and more physical.
That makes it slightly bemusing why Michael Nottingham didn’t feature. After the former Solihull man was left out of the squad entirely at Oxford at the weekend, I expected him to be handed a start last night. But instead, he started on the bench and that’s where he stayed.
Much will be made of the two penalties which to me - sitting in the press box and without the aid of replays - looked soft.
I can sympathise with Solihull’s complaints for the pivotal spot kick Blackpool were awarded in extra time, which resulted in Jay Spearing’s match winning goal, because it’s the sort of decision you’d be furious with had it gone against you.
But exactly the same can be said of the penalty Solihull were themselves awarded in the second half, which was given despite Spearing appearing to win the ball cleanly.
Pool had already taken control of the game by the time Spearing had tucked his penalty away into the bottom corner.
Although very little happened in extra time until the spot kick, it was clear the Seasiders had improved and had gained the upper hand, successfully managing to stifle the visitors in the process.
Unsurprisingly, Solihull ran out of steam a little bit after their momentous efforts of the previous 90 minutes or so. This resulted in Flowers withdrawing his exhausted two strikers, who had caused problems all night.
The Seasiders will ultimately reflect on a completed task but they do have things to work on ahead of Saturday’s crucial match-up, when they welcome League One play-off rivals Barnsley to Bloomfield Road.
For a start, they will be sweating over the fitness of Ollie Turton and Joe Dodoo, with the latter forced to hobble off the pitch last night and was later seen wearing a foot brace - although I’m told this was just as a precaution.
The remainder of the players that featured will no doubt be exhausted from the 120 minutes of action, with McPhillips already suggesting he’ll have no choice but to make changes this weekend.
Liam Feeney and Callum Guy both had off nights, with Guy especially looking short on fitness. A lot was made of the midfielder’s lack of game time before his arrival at Bloomfield Road, so it is perhaps unsurprising he’s looked a little off the pace having been thrust into the thick of the action in recent weeks.
Nathan Delfouneso also struggled to make an impact off the bench, having replaced the injured Dodoo, only to be subbed off himself towards the end of extra time.
But, should Dodoo be out against Barnsley, you’d think Delfouneso would be the man to take his place.
Having recently complained about finding himself on the bench in recent weeks, with some justification, Delfouneso must do better when he is presented with chances, whether that be from the start of off the bench.
Either way, things are still looking rosy for Blackpool on the pitch, with a home tie against Arsenal looming on the horizon.
With last night’s game being played out in front of a sparse crowd of just 1,400 - all crammed into the West Stand with the other three stands sitting completely empty - it will now be interesting to see the numbers that turn out for that clash against the Gunners.