Blackpool 0-1 Oxford United: Jordan Graham's free kick condemns Seasiders to first defeat in eight

Jordan Graham celebrates his match-winning free kick
Jordan Graham celebrates his match-winning free kick
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Blackpool’s seven-game unbeaten run came to a disappointing end as Jordan Graham’s first half free kick handed Oxford United victory at Bloomfield Road.

The Seasiders were well under-par and failed to even make the opposing goalkeeper work, Curtis Tilt having their only real opportunity of the game as he headed wide of goal from close range.

While struggling Oxford weren’t much better, they claimed the three points thanks to Graham’s sublime first-half free kick - clinching their first away win in the league since April 2018.

Captain Jay Spearing was fit enough to return to Blackpool’s midfield having recovered from a knee injury that kept him out of the last three games.

He replaced Nya Kirby as the only change to Pool’s team from the 0-0 draw at Charlton Athletic last weekend.

Jordan Thompson, who missed the stalemate at Charlton through illness, was brought back onto the bench.

Chris Long hobbled off with cramp at The Valley last week but he was also fit enough to start up front alongside Armand Gnanduillet.

The Seasiders are still without Marc Bola, Callum Guy, Matty Virtue, Jimmy Ryan and Max Clayton through injury.

Chris Taylor, Liam Feeney and Elias Sorensen were the three unlucky players not to make Pool’s squad despite being fit.

After a dull opening 10 minutes, the first shot of the afternoon came Blackpool’s way with Harry Pritchard seeing his deflected effort loop into the grateful arms of the Oxford keeper.

There was a nervy moment for Curtis Tilt at the other end, the defender making a bit of a hash of a long ball only to clear at the last moment before striker Jerome Sinclair was able to nip in and take advantage.

A neat bit of footwork on the corner of the Oxford box created a shooting opportunity for Donervon Daniels, who sent a rasping left-footed drive just wide of goal.

The travelling Oxford fans thought their side had broken the deadlock after half an hour when Rob Dickie rose highest at the back stick, only to see his header crash into the side netting.

It soon became clear the diamond system that proved so effective at Charlton last week just wasn’t working on this occasion, with Oxford increasingly looking the side more likely to take the lead.

Mark Sykes came close for the visitors with two long-range efforts in the space of a couple of minutes, the first almost deceiving Howard with the Pool keeper fumbling his dipping shot just around the post.

The second took a slight deflection off the underside of Tilt’s boot and Howard did well to get down to make the save.

But there was nothing the Pool keeper could do to stop Oxford going ahead five minutes before half time, Jordan Graham curling a sublime 25-yard free kick into the top corner after Jay Spearing had conceded a needless free kick.

A sign of Blackpool’s frustrations came via Chris Long on the stroke of half time, the striker sending a wild shot well over the bar from all of 40 yards out.

The Seasiders made a bright start at the start of the second period, playing at a noticeably higher tempo.

Donervon Daniels almost got in behind down the right before Long fired a dangerous ball across goal, but on both occasions Oxford managed to scramble clear.

An excellent piece of defending from Josh Ruffels denied Pool an equaliser, the midfielder somehow managing to head clear from under his own crossbar with Armand Gnanduillet lurking behind him.

Harry Pritchard then put a free kick on a plate for Tilt but the defender, off balance, could only direct his header wide of goal.

Blackpool were almost gifted a leveller when sub Jordan Thompson pounced upon Sam Long’s short back header, taking it past the keeper only for an Oxford defender to recover and clear.

Howard then had to be on his toes to make a smart save down low from Luke Garbutt’s low effort.

With a minute left on the clock, Gnanduillet held the ball up well before laying the ball off to Thompson who blazed well over the bar - which seemed to sum up Blackpool’s day.

Despite making all three changes off the bench, the Seasiders struggled to create anything of note in the final stages and Oxford hung on to their win fairly comfortably, condemning McPhillips’ men to a disappointing defeat.

TEAMS

Blackpool: Howard, Daniels, Heneghan, Tilt, Anderton (Nottingham), Spearing, Turton, Pritchard, Evans (Thompson), Long (Dodoo), Gnanduillet

Subs not used: Mafoumbi, Shaw, Kirby, Delfouneso

Oxford: Eastwood, Garbutt, Dickie, Nelson, Ruffels, Mousinho, Graham (Kashi), Long, Sykes, Henry (Hanson), Sinclair (Smith)

Subs not used: Stevens, Carruthers, James, Lofthouse

Referee: Andy Haines

Attendance: 4,003 (818 Oxford)