I always had the feeling Saturday’s game against Charlton Athletic would be a true test of where this Blackpool team are currently at.
Despite being in and around the top eight or nine for the vast majority of the season, there’s still been plenty of question marks hanging over this Blackpool side – which is probably more to do with external factors out of their control.
Is this just a honeymoon period for Terry McPhillips? Or just a spot of good form? Can Pool be described as genuine play-off contenders?
We can now categorically ignore the first two questions and firmly say yes, Blackpool are right in the mix for the top six and deservedly so.
Blackpool weren’t just coming up against an in-form side on Saturday, which – for the record – they certainly were. The Addicks were on a four-game winning streak before coming up against the Seasiders, leading to Lee Bowyer claiming the Manager of the Month award for November.
But this is a Charlton side that are expected to finish in the top six, have the budget and players to do so and have been in the play-offs for much of the season. But not now.
Blackpool passed their test with flying colours. It wasn’t necessarily just about the result, which was undoubtedly a huge, priceless win.
It was also a case of proving to outsiders they deserve to be at Charlton’s level. Despite everything off the field, the likes of the Addicks, Barnsley and so on - clubs they shouldn’t really be competing with – aren’t out of reach.
Despite drawing level on points with Charlton, the Seasiders remain in eighth place, a solitary point behind Doncaster Rovers who now occupy that final play-off spot.
But Blackpool, who are now seven points ahead of their tally at this point last season, have proven they belong in the top echelons of the division. That’s a huge statement of intent from McPhillips and co.
I must admit I was scratching my head when I saw the teamsheet at McPhillips’ decision to play Liam Feeney at right wing-back.
McPhillips admitted post-match it’s a “foreign” position for him, and Michael Nottingham seems like the natural fit for that particular role.
But it turned out to be an inspired choice. The Seasiders enjoyed success after success down the flanks in a dominant first half, Feeney whipping in a number of balls into the box from the right and Marc Bola, who tirelessly got himself up and down that left flank all afternoon, doing the same from the other side.
Charlton, playing a narrow, diamond formation, looked susceptible down the sides and so it proved for Blackpool’s opener.
Chris Taylor, who produced one of his best performances in a tangerine shirt to date, worked the ball out to Feeney on the right whose cross wasn’t dealt with by Charlton’s shaky defence, giving Gnanduillet the simple task of slotting home from close range for his eighth goal of the season.
Pool were rampant at this point and had the Addicks on the ropes, but that second goal eluded them. Joe Dodoo went close on two separate occasions against his former club, while Curtis Tilt was also denied by a superb reaction save.
As is often the case, the Seasiders were made to pay for their failure to take full advantage of their dominance, with the visitors levelling just 10 minutes into the second half.
It had been coming, too, with Charlton producing a spirited response in the second period.
Once Lee Bowyer’s men got their goal, it looked as though there would only be one winner. They flooded in and around the Blackpool box and got into some dangerous positions time and time again, but the likes of Ben Heneghan and Donervon Daniels kept them at bay with some heroic last-ditch tackles and interceptions.
To Pool’s credit, while they were certainly under the cosh for large swathes of the second period, I don’t remember a time when Mark Howard was seriously tested. That’s testament to the strength of their defence - undoubtedly among the league’s finest.
And the Seasiders caught a second wind – which was quite apt given the horrendous conditions – which resulted in Nathan Delfouneso’s match-winning goal.
But prior to that, Daniels had gone close with a howitzer of an effort on his weak foot from range, while Delfouneso couldn’t get the ball out of his feet inside the six-yard box with the goal at his mercy.
But Delfouneso, on as a substitute, made amends three minutes from time, cooly slotting past the keeper after latching onto Callum Guy’s lovely threaded through ball.
It would be remiss of me to finish this piece without mentioning one Ollie Turton, who was simply outstanding.
The 26-year-old, predominantly a right back, has transformed into a midfield general and was like a man possessed against Charlton.
He stepped up to the plate in the absence of captain Jay Spearing, who missed out with an ankle injury.
Losing Spearing was a huge blow for Blackpool, especially when vice-captain Curtis Tilt also hobbled off during the second half.
But you wouldn’t have noticed given Turton’s leadership, his bravery and his desire to fight back and win the ball for his team.
It’s just a shame Turton – rightly nicknamed ‘Mr Consistent’ – can not be witnessed by all Blackpool fans on a more consistent basis. It that were the case, you’d like to think he’d be more appreciated.