Blackpool 1-0 Sunderland: Seasiders open up five-point gap in League One play-offs with huge win over promotion rivals
Blackpool cemented their spot in the League One play-offs and opened up a five-point gap with a huge win against promotion rivals Sunderland.
A second-half goal which was credited to Ellis Simms, but appeared to come off Sunderland man Bailey Wright, proved to be enough in this cagey, tense encounter at Bloomfield Road.
In a game of few clear-cut chances, Sunderland perhaps had the upper-hand but they were unable to breach Blackpool’s water-tight defence, who kept their 18th clean sheet of the season.
In seeing off third-placed Sunderland, who have now lost three games on the bounce, Neil Critchley’s side are now unbeaten in their last 16 games.
More importantly, the Seasiders have opened up a five-point gap to seventh-placed Charlton Athletic with just six games to go.
Critchley opted to make two changes to the side that played out a goalless draw against Accrington Stanley on Tuesday night.
Demetri Mitchell, who enjoyed a trial with Sunderland in pre-season before joining the Seasiders, came into the side in place of loanee Elliot Embleton, who was ineligible to face his parent club.
Elsewhere, Ollie Turton came back into the side after being dropped for Jordan Gabriel at right-back in midweek.
Elsewhere, Kevin Stewart, Matty Virtue, Keshi Anderson, CJ Hamilton and Gary Madine all remain sidelined through injury, while Bez Lubala is unavailable due to a ‘club matter’.
Sunderland, meanwhile, made three changes to the side that lost 2-1 to Wigan Athletic in midweek, their second successive defeat on the bounce.
The Seasiders, as they did against Accrington in midweek, made a bright start to the game, putting the Black Cats under pressure right from the off.
Following some impressive build-up play, Ollie Turton delivered a superb cross from the right into the six-yard box which Sunderland defender Bailey Wright somehow managed to head over his own crossbar and out for a corner.
The away side, somewhat bizarrely, allowed Pool’s top scorer Jerry Yates to waltz in from the left flank unopposed.
Yates sent a curling effort towards the far corner but Sunderland keeper Lee Burge read the shot well to make the save.
Sunderland’s first attempt of the game came from Grant Leadbitter in fairly unusual circumstances.
Experienced midfielder Grant Leadbitter noticed Chris Maxwell was off his line and looked to beat Pool’s keeper from within his own half, but Maxwell back-tracked well and made the save on his own goalline.
Pool were given a warning sign on 22 minutes when the dangerous Aiden McGeady was allowed to roam inside, where he picked out teammate Jordan Jones with a lovely lofted ball.
The winger got in behind Luke Garbutt with a direct run but he overran it, allowing Maxwell to claim.
The clearest chance of the opening stages came the way of Blackpool, as Ellis Simms squandered a priceless opening after the referee had played advantage.
The striker did well to control a powerful ball played into his feet, setting himself up to shoot from 10 yards out - but he failed to control his effort, eventually blazing wastefully over the bar.
McGeady was beginning to become increasingly influential, drifting into gaps where Pool’s struggled to pick him up.
The winger provided a teasing cross that sailed across Blackpool’s six-yard box, but Garbutt was there to make an important clearance at the back post.
Sunderland, who were well in control towards the end of the half, had half-hearted penalty appeals waved away when Daniel Gretarsson did well to read a Max Power cross and block off Jones.
The second-half began in similarly cagey fashion, with Maxwell doing well to rush off his line and thwart Aiden O’Brien.
While chances for Pool were few and far between, they did get some joy with their pressing which resulted in a couple of openings.
Ollie Turton of all people led one break following a Sunderland corner, but the right-back’s eventual cross was overhit and missed everyone in the middle.
Sunderland came within inches of breaking the deadlock through the supremely talented McGeady, who was denied by the woodwork.
The winger turned Turton inside and out before sending a dipping effort hurtling towards the far corner, but his shot rebounded off the post.
It would prove to be a pivotal moment in the game, as Blackpool took the lead just a minute later.
It came in slightly fortuitous circumstances, but the Seasiders certainly weren’t complaining.
Garbutt played a threatening ball into a crowded six-yard box, where the ball took a touch off Sunderland’s Wright before squirming underneath Burge.
It could and probably should have gone from bad to worse for Sunderland a moment later when Callum McFadzean, already on a booking, escaped a second yellow despite upending Demetri Mitchell.
The Sunderland man was instantly brought off by Sunderland boss Lee Johnson, Denver Hulme the man to replace him.
The visitors began to come on strong late on, Wyke having a dipping volley well saved by Maxwell before Dan Ballard made a crucial clearance off the line after Maxwell had fumbled a loose ball.
Pool were forced into a change with 15 minutes to go when Daniel Gretarsson was replaced by Jordan Thorniley after taking a knock.
With Sunderland throwing men forward in the final stages, the game began to open up, which saw both sides exchange chances.
Mitchell, who was also forced off with a knock with nine minutes to go, had a curling effort parried away by Burge before Maxwell made an important stop to turn Josh Scowen’s well-hit shot behind.
Critchley’s men were holding on a little bit in the dying stages, as Sunderland worked the ball from side to side well and into dangerous areas time and time again.
With two minutes remaining, the ball bounced kindly for Scowen but, leaning back, the Sunderland man could only blaze over.
As the fourth official signalled for SEVEN minutes of added time, Blackpool owner Simon Sadler paced the directors’ box, where he could only stand given what was at stake.
But there was no need to be concerned, as Blackpool’s players saw out the dying moments to pick up a big, big victory in their quest for promotion.
Blackpool: Maxwell, Turton, Ballard, Gretarsson (Thorniley), Garbutt, Dougall, Ward, Mitchell (Gabriel), Kaikai (Husband), Simms (Robson), Yates
Subs not used: Moore, Ekpiteta, Holmes
Sunderland: Burge, Wright, O’Nien, McFadzean (Hulme), Scowen (Gooch), Leadbitter, Jones (Diamond), Power, O’Brien (Stewart), McGeady, Wyke
Subs not used: Matthews, Winchester, Maguire
Referee: Tom Nield
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