Ben Burgess column: Seasiders’ striker came up to the Mark

Mark Cullen delivered when it was required
Mark Cullen delivered when it was required
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Last week I mentioned how big players step up and rise to the big occasions; well take a bow Mark Cullen.

A hat-trick in the semi-final, then an assist and a winning goal at Wembley.

The play-off finals are wonderful and emotional spectacles and it was hard not to compare the game to the last successful play-off final that the Seasiders competed in.

Many fans on social media shared the pictures and great memories they had at the last final, compared to this one.

The two pictures doing the rounds were of a packed Wembley Stadium full of tangerine shirts in 2010 and the empty Wembley of 2017.

The contrast could not have been greater and highlighted on a national scale the ongoing protests.

It’s just so sad that the opportunity to visit Wembley and cheer on their side was taken away from so many fantastic supporters.

The manager and the players deserve so much credit for the way they have gone about their job this season.

Unlike previous campaigns, the off field incidents were not used as excuses.

The players, and Gary Bowyer, know that the protest isn’t about them and they have all been very respectful of the fans’ position.

The game itself was another entertaining encounter, that once again tested the strength and resolve of Bowyer’s men.

Brad Potts’ opening goal was well worked and expertly finished, but then defensive stalwart – and stand-in skipper – Tom Aldred had to be taken off.

Aldred was clearly devastated and I’m sure Bowyer was concerned how he would replace him.

He made the bold decision to bring on Bright Osayi-Samuel and shuffle his team and formation around.

Initially this gave Exeter City the impetus to craft an equaliser but the second half was a completely different story.

With the explosive Osayi-Samuel on one wing and Potts on the other, Exeter’s team was stretched and Pool completely dominated.

Realistically, the boys in tangerine should have won by more than Cullen’s decisive goal but it made for an entertaining last few minutes.

It was great seeing the players and staff celebrating at the final whistle and I’m positive that was also happening in the pubs around Blackpool and the Fylde coast.

In fact, Aldred was so emotional he let slip a word –live on Sky Sports – that I certainly won’t be teaching to my children on Monday!

Even with all of those feelings and emotions flying around, Bowyer remained calm and pragmatic.

His ability to stay relaxed and keep his feelings in check through tough times, and the good times, has helped build this side and given them a platform for promotion.

He was already talking about a transfer budget for next season, how he is under no illusion as to how many players he will need to sign to be able to compete in League One.

The players themselves I’m sure have spent a good few nights deservedly celebrating their achievement, but they would have woken up Tuesday morning to the reality that some will not be retained, some will be grabbing the attention of clubs in higher divisions, others will be disappointed in the amount of playing time they’ve received and for some, they will be expecting bumper new contracts now they’ve earned the team promotion.

In most players’ contracts there is a clause stating that in the event of relegation your wage will be decreased by a certain percentage and vice versa for promotion.

So, while the players will end up feeling slightly richer, it’s not quite the same bonus as we managed for promotion to the Premier League.