Blackpool 2-0 Bristol Rovers: Seasiders make ideal start to the Simon Sadler era
Blackpool began the Simon Sadler era with a win as they made the ideal start to the new 2019/20 League One season.
Goals in either half from Jay Spearing and last season’s top goalscorer Armand Gnanduillet saw the Seasiders ease to a comfortable three points.
The first came from the penalty spot, Spearing dispatching his spot kick after Curtis Tilt had been flattened by the visiting goalkeeper.
And the 11,300 fans in attendance had to wait just 60 seconds into the second half to see Pool add a second, Gnanduillet emphatically heading home from Spearing’s deep cross.
The game was played in front of a boisterous atmosphere, the fans helping welcome Sadler to his new role.
Returning manager Simon Grayson handed debuts to four new players in Jak Alnwick, Ryan Edwards, James Husband and Sullay Kaikai.
Recent signings Rocky Bushiri, Ryan Hardie and Joe Nuttall, meanwhile, started the game from the bench.
Nick Anderton, Callum Guy, Jamie Devitt and Ben Tollitt, Adi Yussuf were all left out of the squad, while Matty Virtue missed out with a thigh injury.
The Seasiders, just as they did against Blackburn Rovers last week, lined up with a back three and wing backs.
There was a real party atmosphere inside Bloomfield Road in the opening stages, chants belting out from all four stands - while hundreds of fans continued to queue outside.
The first shot of sorts came after just two minutes, Ollie Turton slamming a shot well wide of goal from James Husband’s misplaced pass.
With just eight minutes on the clock, Pool were given a major let-off when Jay Spearing lost possession of the ball deep inside his own half.
Striker Victor Adeboyejo was the man to take advantage, slipping Ollie Clarke in down the left whose low shot looked destined for the back of the net, but fortunately for Pool it clipped the outside of the post and rebounded to safety.
The rapid start to the game continued, Sullay Kaikai springing the offside trap to get on the end of Jordan Thompson’s clever ball, only for recovering defenders to block his shot away from goal.
The following passage of play saw Grayson’s men come within a whisker of taking the lead, Nathan Delfouneso glancing a header agonisingly wide of the far post from Liam Feeney’s pinpoint cross.
As the action calmed a little on the pitch, attention turned to Simon Sadler in the directors’ box, the club’s new owner serenaded by an array of songs from the home faithful.
Delfouneso had a priceless chance to slip in either Armand Gnanduillet or Feeney, with Bristol Rovers’ defence toiling, but the forward opted for the former who was flagged offside by the slimmest of margins.
Out of nowhere, Pool were handed a huge opportunity to take the lead when they were gifted a penalty after Tilt was flattened by Rovers goalkeeper Anssi Jaakola.
Skipper Jay Spearing took the ball confidently and dispatched it with ease, too, sending Bloomfield Road into raptures by sending Jaakola the wrong way from 12 yards.
Pool had a half chance of sorts to double their lead 10 minutes before the interval, Feeney standing up an inviting cross for Gnanduillet who could only loop a header up in the air.
The visitors were not to be deterred though, Liam Sercombe coming close to levelling matters on the stroke of half time but Alnwick got well down to make the save.
Yet Pool came even closer a minute later, Sullay Kaikai denied by a superb reaction stop at the near post by Jaakola after letting fly with a first-time volley.
It wasn’t to matter though, as within 60 seconds of the second half Grayson’s men extended their lead to 2-0.
It came via an exquisite assist from the scorer of the first goal, skipper Spearing, who provided a teasing inswinging cross for Gnanduillet to emphatically head at the back post.
Pool continued to play with at a high intensity, breaking forward at speed time and time again as they looked to add to their tally.
Gnanduillet, now brimming with confidence, twisted and turned his marker by the byline before prodding a ball across the face of the six-yard box which was cleared at the last second.
The visitors, desperately looking for a route back into the game, saw Sercombe flash an ambitious volley narrowly over the bar.
The Seasiders found themselves camped in their own half for a spell of sustained pressure, Gnanduillet struggling to make the ball stick at the opposing end of the pitch.
Ollie Clarke let fly at goal from 20 yards out, sending an ambitious dipping volley narrowly over the Pool bar.
Pool remained a threat on the break though and looked a lot more potent in the final third compared to last season, when they managed to score just 50 league goals.
Delfouneso came within a whisker of getting a toe to a deflected clearance which almost fell straight to him just six-yards out.
The following move saw Feeney deliver yet another tantalising cross that Gnanduillet couldn’t quite make the required contact with.
Bristol Rovers almost pulled a goal back in fortunate circumstances, substitute Tyler Smith almost diverting Luke Leahy’s hopeful shot towards goal, but Alnwick watched on as it flew harmlessly over.
With 15 minutes remaining, Grayson handed a Pool debut to striker Joe Nuttall, just two days after his arrival from Blackburn Rovers, as he replaced the scorer of the second goal, Gnanduillet.
Bristol Rovers’ desperation to get back into the game reached new levels, Smith skewing a shot so wide of goal it actually went out for a throw-in.
Sub Tom Nichols did narrowly head wide of goal in the final minute of normal time, although Alnwick was able to watch it bobble beyond his far post.
The Seasiders had to survive a late scare in the final action of the game, but the woodwork came to their aid again to stop Smith's header.
It meant Pool held onto a clean sheet as well as a hard-earned, impressive three points to get the new season off to the perfect start.
Blackpool: Alnwick, Turton, Edwards, Tilt, Husband (Bushiri), Spearing, Thompson, Feeney, Delfouneso (Pritchard), Kaikai, Gnanduillet (Nuttall)
Subs not used: Mafoumbi, Nottingham, Shaw, Hardie
Bristol Rovers: Jaakola, Little, Craig, Leahy, Upson, Sercombe, Clarke, Davies, Bennett, Rodman (Smith), Adeboyejo (Nichols)
Subs not used: Van Stappershoef, Agogo, Kilgour, Hare, Tomlinson
Referee: Seb Stockbridge
Attendance: 11,359 (1,536 Bristol Rovers)