Blackpool 1-1 Crewe Alexandra: Visitors equalise late on as Seasiders are held to a draw on first anniversary of Neil Critchley's appointment
Crewe scored four minutes from time to deny Blackpool a fourth straight victory on the first anniversary of Neil Critchley’s appointment.
Substitute Stephen Walker fired past Chris Maxwell to deal a blow to Blackpool’s hopes of cutting the gap to the League One play-offs.
The goal, the first the Seasiders had conceded in almost six hours of football, levelled matters after Dan Ballard had given Critchley’s men a first-half lead with his first goal for the club.
The Railwaymen had dominated the opening period, but Pool defended resolutely and took their chance from a set-piece when it came.
A fourth straight victory and a sixth win in seven looked on the cards after an uneventful second-half, but Walker struck to put an end to Blackpool’s hot streak.
Nevertheless, the Seasiders continue their unbeaten home run which stretches back to October.
Neil Critchley unsurprisingly opted to name an unchanged side from the weekend, where Blackpool were 3-0 winners away at Charlton Athletic.
The big news was that CJ Hamilton, who had been sidelined with a serious hamstring injury since December 19, was back on the bench.
James Husband and Gary Madine both remain out, but aren’t thought to be too far away, while Marvin Ekpiteta, Daniel Gretarsson and Keshi Anderson remain longer-term concerns.
Crewe started the day one point and two positions above Critchley’s men in the league table having played four games more.
Dave Artell named former Pool loanee Antony Evans in his starting line-up, having signed him during the January transfer window, while Donervon Daniels also started at centre-back.
It’s vitally important to set the right tone early on in games but that’s the exact opposite of what Blackpool did, as a poor Jordan Thorniley clearance from kick-off gifted Crewe possession inside 10 seconds.
It handed Crewe the momentum, leading Pool skipper Chris Maxwell to scream at his teammates to “liven up” and show some composure.
Maxwell was required to make a vital stop inside the opening 10 minutes, back-tracking quickly to tip Chris Porter’s dipping volley over the bar after Thorniley had been rushed into making another poor clearance.
The visitors had the measure of the Seasiders early on and Critchley’s side were left chasing shadows at times.
Striker Mikael Mandron had the ball in the back of the net on 14 minutes from Daniels’ ball in from the right, but it was ruled out by the linesman for offside.
It remained one-way traffic, as Porter headed wide from another Daniels cross as Crewe continued to open up the home side with relative ease.
Blackpool struggled to string a couple of passes together as panic and a lack of composure set in, Crewe forcing them into errors over and over again.
The Railwaymen were forced into making a change on 33 minutes as Daniels, who had posed an attacking threat at right-back early on, hobbled off with an injury and was replaced by Rio Adebisi.
The delay in proceedings allowed Blackpool’s players the chance to regroup and share a quick word with Critchley and his backroom staff.
As soon as the action restarted, the Seasiders produced their first effort of the evening as Ellis Simms had a powerful effort from the angle parried away by Dave Richards.
Pool continued to enjoy a bit of a revival, as Luke Garbutt saw a powerful cross on the overlap pushed away and cleared behind for a corner.
The initial set-piece was dealt with by Crewe, but the second one resulted in a goal as Blackpool edged their noses in front four minutes before the break.
Dan Ballard was the man to get it, scoring his first goal for the club, heading home from Garbutt’s excellent cross into a crowded box.
Pool were given a good shooting opportunity to double their lead at the start of the second-half as Kevin Stewart was poleaxed five yards outside the Crewe box.
Garbutt’s free-kick was accurate, but there wasn’t enough power on his low shot which Richards collected.
Blackpool’s football was far more solid and composed at this point, while they continued to cause the away side one or two problems.
Sullay Kaikai went close with a low effort that was blocked inside the six-yard box after Grant Ward’s excellent cross caused havoc.
It proved to be Kaikai’s final action of the game, as the winger was brought off for the returning CJ Hamilton just before the hour-mark. Demetri Mitchell also replaced Ellis Simms as part of the double change.
The game was disrupted at this point as one of the linesmen went down with an injury and was forced to be replaced by the fourth official.
The arrival of Mitchell and Hamilton allowed the Seasiders to press higher up the pitch and with more intensity, as they looked to stop Crewe at source.
Nevertheless, the visitors continued to cause Blackpool problems, with Maxwell forced to scurry across goal and tip Thorniley’s skewed clearance wide of goal from Evans’ ambitious long-range effort.
With the clock ticking, Crewe wasted a presentable chance to level when first-half substitute Adebisi headed over from a corner.
Just as it looked like Pool would hold on and see out the remainder of the game to claim another vital three points, Crewe levelled four minutes from time.
Substitute Stephen Walker was the man to capitalise on some poor defending, beating the offside trap to latch on a routine long ball over the top before firing past Maxwell at his near post.
Buoyed by their late leveller, Crewe looked the more likely to snatch the points at the death as the referee signalled for TEN minutes of added time.
Owen Dale, another substitute, struck narrowly wide from the edge of the box, while the ball almost fell for Jerry Yates at the other end, but the Blackpool striker couldn’t get quite a shot off at goal.
The game ended in frantic fashion with both sides going for a late winner, but it ended up 1-1 after the referee blew time after 100 minutes of action.
Blackpool: Maxwell, Gabriel, Ballard, Thorniley, Garbutt, Stewart, Virtue, Ward, Kaikai (Hamilton), Simms (Mitchell), Yates
Subs not used: Moore, Turton, Dougall, Robson, Embleton
Crewe: Richards, Pickering, Beckles, Wood, Wintle, Daniels (Adebisi), Evans (Powell), Kirk (Walker), Lowery, Porter, Mandron (Dale)
Subs not used: Jaaskelainen, Lancashire, Griffiths
Referee: Seb Stockbridge
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