Blackpool 1-0 Fulham: Josh Bowler's superb solo goal hands Seasiders first league win against promotion favourites
Josh Bowler’s superb solo goal handed Blackpool their first league win of the season against promotion favourites Fulham.
The winger struck four minutes into the second-half to hand Neil Critchley’s side a deserved lead against Marco Silva’s men.
The Seasiders, who record their first win against the Cottagers in 23 years, were excellent throughout, but had to remain patient having dominated the first 45 minutes.
But the men in tangerine got the goal their excellent display deserved and held onto their lead in a supremely professional manner - grabbing a deserved first three points of the campaign and their first in the Championship since January 2015.
Neil Critchley handed a debut to Ryan Wintle, following the midfielder’s move to Bloomfield Road during the final days of the transfer window.
The Cardiff City loanee started in central midfield alongside Kevin Stewart, who made his first start of the season.
Jordan Gabriel was also handed a ‘second debut’, so to speak, starting at right-back ahead of Dujon Sterling, who started the game on the bench.
Fellow deadline day signing Owen Dale was not involved.
Elsewhere, Tyreece John-Jules was preferred to Shayne Lavery in attack following the duo’s return from international duty.
Lavery, who started Northern Ireland’s games against Lithuania and Switzerland, only took part in training on Friday, while John-Jules was involved the day before.
Kenny Dougall, meanwhile, was only named on the bench despite not featuring for Australia during their World Cup qualifiers against China and Vietnam.
James Husband recovered from the calf injury that kept him out of Blackpool’s last league game, the 2-1 defeat to Millwall, to be named on the bench along with Daniel Gretarsson.
Matty Virtue (ACL), Grant Ward (achilles), Demetri Mitchell (knee), CJ Hamilton (foot) and Gary Madine (groin) all remain sidelined.
Teddy Howe, Oliver Sarkic, Bez Lubala and Joe Nuttall continue to be left out having not been named in Blackpool’s 25-man squad.
Fulham, who started the day sitting top of the Championship table, named a star-studded line-up that included the likes of Tosin Adarabioyo, Bobby Decordova-Reid and Aleksander Mitrovic.
The Seasiders showed good attacking intent early on, forcing an early corner inside the first two minutes of the game.
But the first chance of the afternoon fell the way of the hosts, whose winger Ivan Cavaleiro skewed over after being fed into the channel.
Pool were the side causing all the problems though early on with their high press, forcing the Cottagers into mistake after mistake.
Keshi Anderson went close twice in quick succession, firing low across the face of goal before firing agonisingly wide from long-range.
Tyreece John-Jules was inches away from meeting Anderson’s first effort, sliding in unopposed in the six-yard box.
The visitors were caught napping on the ball on the edge of their own box which led to another Pool chance, but keeper Paulo Gazzaniga did well to surge off his goalline and deny John-Jules, who looked to nip the ball past the Fulham shot stopper.
Luke Garbutt and Anderson were combining especially well down the left flank, the latter latching onto a through-ball from the left-back before firing a low ball across the face of the six-yard box after being fed by the left-back.
Unfortunately for Pool, Gazzaniga got down well to make the block and claim.
Despite dominating the opening exchanges, the Seasiders had no goal to show for their good work.
Nevertheless, the Fulham fans - who travelled north in healthy numbers - were kept quiet as their side struggled to make headway.
Pool continued to force mistake after mistake with their press, but their final ball let them down once they won the ball back high up the pitch.
Josh Bowler was particularly guilty of this, producing two really poor through-balls to Jerry Yates when he had time and space on his side.
Seven minutes before the interval, Pool attempted a set-piece routine which nearly went horribly wrong.
Garbutt played the corner short to Josh Bowler, who dummied it straight to a Fulham player, causing Critchley to turn away in disgust on the sideline.
The visitors broke at speed, before Aleksander Mitrovic had a shot blocked much to Critchley’s relief.
This began a spell of pressure from the visitors, their first of the game, which resulted in Jean Michael Seri fizzing a powerful effort inches wide of Maxwell’s upright from range.
Pool, just as they did in the opening period, made a bright start to the second-half.
Kevin Stewart picked out Bowler on the right flank with a raking ball on his weaker left foot, allowing the winger to go one-on-one with his marker.
Bowler shifted the ball past Antonee Robinson with ease, but his final ball was a poor one and Gazzaniga was able to claim.
Bloomfield Road, which was already rocking, lifted off completely three minutes later when Bowler broke the deadlock with a superb solo goal, Pool’s first league goal on home turf this season.
The winger waltzed past two or three Fulham challenges before having the audacity to slip the ball past Gazzaniga at his near post to score his first league goal in tangerine.
It would have been bedlam a few moments later had Jerry Yates’ speculative long-range effort ended up in the back of the net.
Last season’s top scorer noticed Gazzaniga was off his line and, just a few yards into the Fulham half, the forward tried his luck. But the Fulham keeper retreated and made the save.
Fulham continued to push their luck, taking time on the ball in and around their own box, allowing Pool to close them down at every opportunity.
While the Cottagers were below-par, they still offered an attacking threat, Josh Onomah whistling a 25-yard shot just wide of Maxwell’s upright just before the hour-mark.
Pool were gifted a priceless chance to double their lead when Bowler was fouled right on the edge of the Fulham box by Domingos Quina, who was booked.
Stewart, rather than Garbutt, opted to take the free-kick though and the midfielder ballooned his effort well over.
The two sides continued to exchange good chances, Bowler doing superbly to make a last-ditch interception to deny Quina, just as the Fulham man looked set to level at the back stick.
Pool weren’t willing to sit back and defend their one-goal lead, they wanted to keep attacking - and that’s exactly what they did, Yates almost reaching Anderson’s clever, teasing cross from the left ahead of Gazzaniga.
With 18 minutes remaining, Critchley turned to his bench and brought on the tireless runner Shayne Lavery, who replaced Yates.
As you would expect, Fulham began to pile on the pressure in the final stages.
Mitrovic, who had been a passenger up to this point, almost levelled with a header that skipped off the turf before arrowing towards the bottom corner. Thankfully Maxwell got down well to tip the effort around the post.
Kenny Dougall, meanwhile, entered the fray in place of debutant Wintle, who was given a deserved standing ovation for an excellent first display in tangerine.
Pool wasted a golden opportunity to put the game to bed seven minutes from time when Bowler carved open the Fulham backline with a penetrative run from the right flank.
The winger ignored Anderson to his right, despite his teammate being in acres of space, instead opting to shoot, only to see his effort fly over.
The away side almost punished Pool for that miss, substitute Neeskens Kebano firing a free-kick across the face of the Blackpool goal three minutes from time.
Critchley wanted his side to push further up the pitch, as they naturally dropped further and further back in the dying seconds.
Harrison Reed wasted a late chance for Silva’s side, stabbing wide of the upright after the ball had fallen kindly for him in the box.
Roared on by the boisterous North Stand, the Seasiders held on thanks to a backs-against-the-wall display in the five minutes of stoppage time, claiming a richly deserved first league win of the season against the promotion favourites.
Blackpool: Maxwell, Gabriel, Keogh, Ekpiteta, Garbutt, Stewart, Wintle (Dougall), Bowler, Anderson, John-Jules (Husband), Yates (Lavery)
Subs not used: Grimshaw, Gretarsson, Sterling, Carey
Fulham: Gazzaniga, Odoi, Tosin, Ream, Robinson, Seri, Onomah (Reed), Decordova-Reid, Quina (Kebano), Cavaleiro, Mitrovic
Subs not used: Rodak, Mawson, Bryan, Chalobah, Muniz
Referee: John Busby
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