Blackpool 2-0 Walsall: Chris Long and Harry Pritchard net as Seasiders made to work hard for important win

Blackpol celebrate Chris Long's early goal
Blackpol celebrate Chris Long's early goal
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Chris Long and Harry Pritchard were on the scoresheet while Mark Howard made a penalty save as Blackpool bolstered their play-off hopes with a hard-earned win against Walsall.

Pritchard’s 88th minute goal made Pool’s win looked comfortable, but it was anything but for the Seasiders who led early on through Long’s second goal for the club.

Howard then made a superb penalty save midway through the second half to deny Matt Jarvis after Curtis Tilt had been penalised for a foul in the area.

After weathering the Walsall storm, Pool made sure of the win with Pritchard’s late goal with makes it five games unbeaten - McPhillips’ men also keeping their 15th league clean sheet of the season.

It leaves Blackpool four points off the play-offs ahead of Tuesday night's trip to Sunderland.

Terry McPhillips made four changes from the side that drew 2-2 in Blackpool’s last game against Wycombe Wanderers.

Despite being voted the club’s Player of the Month for January, Christoffer Mafoumbi was dropped to the bench in favour of Mark Howard, the goalkeeper making his first appearance since picking up a groin injury in the FA Cup defeat to Arsenal.

Harry Pritchard came in for the injured Jay Spearing, while Donervon Daniels replaced Michael Nottingham at right back.

None of the new signings were included in the starting 11, although January addition Chris Long was handed his second start for the club as he replaced Liam Feeney in Pool’s front three - Feeney dropping out of the squad altogether.

Nottingham, Nick Anderton and Chris Taylor were also left out of the squad, McPhillips opting to name a youthful bench including the likes of Nathan Shaw, Nya Kirby, Elias Sorensen and the two deadline day signings Matty Virtue and Antony Evans.

On-loan Rangers man Joe Dodoo was also named as a substitute on his return from a five-week lay-off.

Blackpool made a strong, positive start to the game, creating an opening for Armand Gnanduillet just two minutes in only for the striker to head wide of the target from Marc Bola’s cross.

Walsall produced a copycat chance of their own, Saddlers’ top scorer Andy Cook heading wide of Howard’s goal from Matt Jarvis’ ball into the box.

With just 14 minutes on the clock, Pool deservedly took the lead through Chris Long - the forward netting his second goal for the club.

It came after he was set free in behind Walsall’s backline, Long taking a touch to set himself before firing across the goalkeeper into the back of the net in clinical style.

The 23-year-old almost made it two four minutes later, again getting in behind Walsall’s static defence only this time to be foiled by keeper Liam Roberts.

Jordan Thompson, Pool’s most influential player in the early stages, then fired a rocket of an effort over the Walsall bar after cutting in from the right.

While Pool looked comfortable, Walsall did show the odd glimpse of promise on the break - Aramide Oteh selfishly going it alone when Matt Jarvis was in space to the left, Oteh eventually being crowded out by Blackpool’s defence.

But Walsall were otherwise subdued and offered very little going forwards, while always looking susceptible at the back at the same time.

Pool, still searching for that all-important second goal to put the game to bed, worked the ball out well to the left where Bola’s pullback looked destined to reach Gnanduillet but a Walsall defender intervened at the last moment to clear.

McPhillips’ men began the second half in the same vein, Nathan Delfouneso beating his man by the touchline before seeing his cross-shot blocked by the keeper’s midriff.

But the Saddlers responded well, putting the Seasiders under the cosh for the first time with a sustained spell of pressure in the middle stages of the second period.

Substitute Isaiah Osbourne curled in a teasing ball to the back stick towards centre back Jon Guthrie who couldn’t quite connect, otherwise it would have surely resulted in a certain equaliser.

McPhillips recognised Pool were losing control in midfield and, on the hourmark, swiftly changed things up by taking off goalscorer Long to hand a debut to deadline day signing Matty Virtue.

The away side were given a priceless chance to level things up on 66 minutes after they were awarded a penalty for a foul on Oteh from Curtis Tilt.

Former Premier League winger Matt Jarvis was the man to step up but he was denied by a superb sprawling save from Howard, the 32-year-old diving well to his right.

The ball rebounded back out into the six-yard box but Pool somehow managed to clear the ball out for a corner before a Walsall player could tap home into the empty net.

Howard made an even better save a minute later, denying Oteh from point-blank range as Pool put everything on the line to hold onto their lead.

At the other end, Virtue came close to doubling Pool’s lead after having the ball laid off to him by Ollie Turton, only to see his goalbound effort deflected away by his own teammate Armand Gnanduillet.

With just seven minutes left, Ben Heneghan produced a vital last-ditch block to deny Cook as the striker got a shot off from close range.

The three points were all wrapped up three minutes from time, Harry Pritchard capitalising on a defensive mistake to notch his fifth goal of the season.

It came after defender Dan Scarr had taken the ball off Gnanduillet, only to inadvertently play it into the path of Pritchard who made no mistake from close range.

TEAMS

Blackpool: Howard, Daniels, Heneghan, Tilt, Bola, Turton, Pritchard, Thompson, Delfouneso (Evans), Long (Virtue), Gnanduillet (Dodoo)

Subs not used: Mafoumbi, Shaw, Kirby, Sorensen

Walsall: Roberts, Edwards, Dobson (Osbourne), Guthrie, Devlin (Ismail), Norman, Laird, Scarr, Oteh, Jarvis (Taylor), Cook

Subs not used: Dunn, Leahy, Fitzwater, Gordon

Referee: Thomas Bramall

Attendance: 3,252 (622 Walsall)