'A win that never looked in doubt': Matt Scrafton's verdict on Blackpool's victory over Leeds Uniter's Under-21s that secured EFL Trophy qualification

If a week is a long time in football, as the old-worn cliché goes, then 18 days must feel like a lifetime.
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Cast your minds back to October 24, barely three weeks ago, when Blackpool were preparing for an early six-pointer against fellow strugglers MK Dons just seven games into the campaign.

Neil Critchley’s side were second from bottom in League One and had just been beaten 1-0 against Charlton Athletic in a dreary game in which they played with 10 men for 89 minutes, losing for the fifth time in just eight outings.

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All of that pre-season optimism had slowly but surely drained out of the supporters and the club’s ambitions to challenge for promotion looked to have ended before the campaign had properly got going.

Fast forward three weeks and Blackpool are now flying. They’ve won five of their last six and the one game they did lose, the narrow 1-0 defeat at AFC Wimbledon, they really ought to have drawn despite having two players sent off.

The Seasiders have clawed themselves into the top half of the League One table and have qualified for the next stages of both the FA Cup and the EFL Trophy in quick succession. Momentum is now on their side.

Isn’t it amazing how quickly things can change?

Dan Kemp got Blackpool up and running with his first goal for the clubDan Kemp got Blackpool up and running with his first goal for the club
Dan Kemp got Blackpool up and running with his first goal for the club

The whole mood around the club has been transformed and Blackpool now having the luxury of being able to enjoy a mini-break ahead of a hectic couple of months, where they’ll be playing Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday right up until 2021.

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Will Blackpool even regret moving forward their game against Ipswich Town, which was originally scheduled to take place this weekend?

Critchley’s side would have been heading into the encounter on the back of four straight wins, while the Tractor Boys have lost four of their last seven. Blackpool would have been brimming with confidence.

Hindsight, of course, is a wonderful thing.

Blackpool’s latest victory, the dominant 3-0 win against Leeds United’s Under-21s on Wednesday night, never really looked in doubt.

Dan Kemp got the Seasiders up and running after just nine minutes, scoring his first Blackpool goal in some style as he emphatically slammed home a first-time volley from Bez Lubala’s sublime cross with the outside of his boot.

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The two wingers, enjoying a rare outing either side of Jerry Yates in attack, were both in impressive form and did their chances of pushing for more regular first-team action no harm whatsoever.

The game was as good as over against Leeds’ youngsters with just 20 minutes on the clock when Kemp turned provider, producing a vicious corner that ricocheted into the back of the Leeds net via the unfortunate Cody Drameh after the cross had been flicked on at the near post by Jordan Thorniley.

Just a quick word on Thorniley, whose confidence looks to be completely shot. The defender actually made a bright enough start to this encounter, bringing the ball out from the back on a couple of occasions. But he went on to make some really basic errors, got beaten for pace too easily and was far too lackadaisical in possession of the ball, even on the edge of Pool’s own 18-yard box.

Blackpool remained in the ascendancy throughout thanks to their pressing high up the pitch, a hark back to their pre-season displays as they returned to their 4-3-3 system.

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If there was one criticism of the Seasiders, it was their lack of ruthlessness in front of goal. This was evident at the start of the second-half when they produced wave after wave of attack on the Leeds goal, only to squander two or three really good chances.

Leeds enjoyed a five to 10-minute spell of pressure where they briefly threatened a comeback of sorts, without ever looking wholly convincing.

The one time they did get through on goal, after Thorniley had been dispossessed as the last man, debutant Jack Sims stood tall to make a crucial stop to deny Joe Gelhardt who opted for power rather than precision.

Leeds couldn’t even muster a response late on when Blackpool were reduced to 10 men when Cameron Antwi, another youngster making his first start, was shown a second yellow.

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The midfielder had been in excellent form up to that point, screening the back four well and mopping up efficiently, but he got a little bit too carried away and gave the referee no option to brandish the red. When you’re already on a yellow, you can’t really be making those types of challenges.

Critchley, nevertheless, was absolutely furious. Rightly so, too. Because just seconds earlier a Leeds player had gone right over the top of the ball with a far worse tackle that merited a red on its own. The referee allowed the play to continue, not deeming the challenge to even be a foul, which led to Antwi’s reckless decision.

Thankfully it made no difference to the end result, although there will be questions why Pool have picked up five red cards already this season.

But Ethan Robson, one of those to have been sent off earlier in the campaign, put the game to bed for good just four minutes later, capping off his impressive return from suspension with a long-range beauty that flew into the back of the net in-off the post, leaving Leeds keeper Kiko Casilla rooted to the spot.

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Casilla, a 34-year-old keeper who made 36 appearances for Real Madrid between 2016 and 2018, starting in a competition that supposedly helps blood up-and-coming English stars for the future benefit of the national team. You couldn’t write it.

Blackpool were certainly doing their bit though, with starts for Sims and Antwi followed by a memorable debut off the bench for 17-year-old Rob Apter, just a week after the diminutive youth-teamer had signed pro terms.

Youngsters getting time on the pitch, three goals, a third straight clean sheet, another win and qualification for the next round signed, sealed and delivered. Job done indeed.