Blackpool 3-0 Leeds United's U21s: Seasiders continue impressive recent form to qualify for knockout stages of EFL Trophy
and live on Freeview channel 276
Blackpool qualified for the knockout stages of the EFL Trophy with a dominant victory against Leeds United’s Under-21s.
An early Dan Kemp strike and an own goal handed the Seasiders, who only required a point to qualify from the group stage, a comfortable first-half lead.
Despite being reduced to 10 men late on when Cameron Antwi was sent off on his debut, Blackpool still found time to add a third when Ethan Robson curled home a long-range beauty.
The victory saw the Seasiders continue their impressive recent form, winning for the fourth consecutive match ahead of a mini-break, with no game until November 21.
Pool, who have now won five of their last six, were in the ascendancy throughout and even had the luxury of wasting two or three other presentable opportunities.
Nevertheless, the result was never really in doubt as Blackpool finished second in their EFL Trophy group behind Accrington Stanley, having remained unbeaten after their three games in the competition.
Neil Critchley made seven changes to the side that beat Eastbourne Borough 3-0 in the FA Cup on Sunday.
Jordan Gabriel, Ollie Turton, James Husband and Jerry Yates were the four to keep their places.
Youth-team star Rob Apter, who has only just signed a pro contract, was named among the substitutes alongside Keshi Anderson on his return from injury.
Ethan Robson returned from suspension and was named in Blackpool's midfield alongside Cameron Antwi and Grant Ward.
Dan Ballard has also served his suspension but he's now away on international duty with Northern Ireland.
Ben Woodburn was ineligible having already played in the competition for Liverpool, while Luke Garbutt, MJ Williams, Matty Virtue and Oliver Sarkic are still sidelined by injury.
Leeds, meanwhile, named a strong side that included two first-teamers, 34-year-old former Real Madrid goalkeeper Kiko Casilla and ex-Manchester City winger Ian Poveda. Joe Gelhardt and striker Sam Greenwood, two Under-23s identified as threats beforehand, started the game in attack.
Blackpool, wearing black armbands in memory of the club’s former goalkeeper Tony Waiters, who passed away earlier this week, reverted back to the 4-3-3 system they utilised earlier in the campaign, with Dan Kemp and Bez Lubala flanking Jerry Yates in attack.
The system allowed Blackpool to press the youngsters high up the pitch, an approach that paid dividends with just nine minutes on the clock.
Critchley’s men dispossessed Leeds of the ball in the final third, before quickly working the ball wide to Bez Lubala.
After beating two men, the winger produced a stunning cross with the outside of his boot that was met emphatically by Dan Kemp, who sent a first-time effort high into the net for his first Blackpool goal.
The Seasiders maintained the pressure, often pinning Leeds into their own half, and subsequently doubled their lead on the 20-minute mark.
It must be said, the goal came with a large chunk of fortune, as Jordan Thorniley’s flicked header from Ethan Robson’s corner took a heavy deflection off Leeds’ Cody Drameh and into the back of the net, via the post.
Yates, looking for his fourth goal in as many games, went close to adding a third when his shot on the turn was well saved by Casilla.
Lubala, looking increasingly lively down the left flank for Blackpool, teed the ball up to Yates who was denied by Casilla for a second time, the keeper getting down to make a comfortable save from the striker’s 20-yard shot.
Such was Blackpool’s dominance, Leeds didn’t threaten until the half-hour mark when Sam Greenwood dragged a ball across the face of the six-yard box, but no team-mate was able to capitalise.
Gelhardt and Oliver Casey then had shots blocked as Leeds looked to recycle the ball and maintain the pressure.
One or two signs of complacency began to set in, especially at the back where Pool were too relaxed on the ball, almost allowing Leeds to dispossess them in and around their own goal.
Nevertheless, they remained comfortable and the scoreline allowed them to play with an element of freedom and expression in attack.
Yates squandered a big chance to put the game to bed for good in first-half stoppage-time when he cut back onto his stronger right foot, opening up space for himself in the process, only to be denied by Casilla when he really ought to have picked out the bottom corner.
Blackpool started the second-half just as they had ended the first-half, on top and creating good chances to extend their lead.
The first came the way of Grant Ward, who volleyed over at the back post from James Husband’s cross, before Kemp was denied a second by the legs of Casilla after being played through on goal by Lubala.
Lubala then looked to cap off his impressive display with a goal, curling narrowly over and showing some neat footwork to create some space for himself.
Another chance went begging just before the hour-mark when Yates couldn’t quite make the required contact from Ward’s heavy cross, the striker’s header eventually claimed by Casilla at the second attempt.
A similar pattern was beginning to emerge from previous games where Blackpool were lacking a ruthless, clinical touch in front of goal to make life easier for themselves.
The longer that continued, the more and more Leeds began to grow in confidence and the game could have been a lot different had Joe Gelhardt punished Jordan Thorniley’s poor mistake.
The defender, Blackpool’s last man, took too long to play the ball out from the back - not for the first time - allowing Leeds to play Gelhardt through on goal.
With only Jack Sims to beat, it looked like a fairly simple finish but the Blackpool keeper - starting his first game for the club - stood up well to make a superb save from Gelhardt’s drilled effort.
Critchley opted to freshen things up with 20 minutes left on the clock, Keshi Anderson returning from a one-month lay-off to replace man-of-the-match Lubala, while Teddy Howe was given a rare outing in place of Jordan Gabriel.
Blackpool showed some good game management in the final stages, keeping hold of possession well and tiring their inexperienced opponents.
They made life a bit more difficult for themselves with 12 minutes remaining when they were reduced to 10 men for the fifth time already this season, debutant Cameron Antwi the man to be shown his marching orders.
The midfielder, already on a booking, surged into a challenge on Cody Drameh which gave the referee no option but to show a second yellow.
It wasn’t the heaviest of challenge and it was a shame the way Antwi’s promising debut ended, but the midfielder took a risk making such a challenge when already on a booking.
Despite being a man down, the Seasiders added a third just four minutes later as Ethan Robson got in on the act with a sublime effort.
The midfielder, scoring his first Blackpool goal, cut in from the right before unleashing an unstoppable bending effort that ricocheted in off the post and left Casilla rooted to the spot.
Antwi’s red card really had no discernible effect on proceedings and Blackpool eventually strolled into the next stage of the competition.
Blackpool: Sims, Gabriel (Howe), Turton, Thorniley, Husband, Antwi, Robson, Ward, Kemp, Lubala (Anderson), Yates (Apter)
Subs not used: Fojticek, Ekpiteta, Dougall, Hamilton
Leeds: Casilla, Davis (Jenkins), Cresswell, Casey (Huggins), Drameh, Kenneh, McCarron, Summerville, Poveda (McKinstry), Gelhardt, Greenwood
Subs not used: Caprile, Kamwa, Moore, Dean
Referee: Seb Stockbridge