Blackpool 4-1 Gillingham: Neil Critchley's men see off top-six rivals in emphatic fashion to move clear in League One play-offs
Blackpool saw off top-six rivals Gillingham in emphatic fashion to cement their spot in the League One play-offs.
A clinic of incisive passing and clinical finishing saw Neil Critchley’s side extend their unbeaten run to 13 games in this Easter Monday encounter.
More importantly, it dealt a major blow to a direct rival as they moved four points clear of Charlton Athletic in seventh, with a game in hand still to play.
Jerry Yates scored two of the four goals, as he became the first Blackpool player to bag 20 in a season since Andy Morrell during the 2006/07 promotion-winning campaign.
The win also extends Blackpool’s unbeaten run on home turf, where they’ve still not been beaten since October 20 - an impressive streak that extends 16 games in all competitions.
The Seasiders, who have been mired by an injury crisis in recent weeks, were boosted by the return of James Husband and Marvin Ekpiteta.
The duo were named on the bench, alongside Daniel Gretarsson who was dropped from the Good Friday victory at Swindon.
Jordan Gabriel also came out of the side as Neil Critchley made two changes to his side, bringing in Dan Ballard - making his first appearance since being called up for international duty - and Jordan Thorniley.
Kevin Stewart, Matty Virtue, Keshi Anderson, CJ Hamilton and Gary Madine all remain sidelined, while Bez Lubala is still unavailable due to a ‘club matter’.
Gillingham, who began the day just two points behind the Seasiders in the league table, named the same side that beat Wigan Athletic 1-0 in their last encounter.
It featured in-form striker Vadaine Oliver, who had netted nine times in his last nine games.
Gills boss Steve Evans had never been beaten by a Blackpool side in a competitive outing prior to this encounter, a record he will have been keen to keep in tact.
The match was officiated by Darren Drysdale, who recently returned from a four-game ban after ‘locking heads’ and snarling in the face of Ipswich Town player Alan Judge.
It was the away side who threatened first and it wasn’t a great surprise to see Gilingham’s early opening came via a long throw.
Ryan Jackson launched it into the Blackpool box, the ball was partially cleared towards Alex MacDonald at the back post and his sweetly-struck effort rifled over Chris Maxwell’s crossbar.
The Seasiders, opting to play with a more pleasing-on-the-eye style, created some early space for Grant Ward outside the box following some neat approach play but the midfielder’s effort was a wild one and sailed well over.
A minute later, Blackpool took the lead in bizarre circumstances.
Jerry Yates was stood at least 10 yards offside, if not more so, but the ball was gifted to him by a stray Gillingham backpass, leaving him with only the goalkeeper to beat.
Full of confidence, Blackpool’s top scorer made no mistake, slipping the ball past Jack Bonham in confident manner to net his fifth goal in his last four games and his 19th of the campaign.
Blackpool were fortunate their lead remained intact just three minutes later when the returning Ballard was dumped on his backside by man-mountain John Akinde.
The striker played a dangerous ball across the face of Maxwell’s six-yard box but the home side somehow managed to scramble clear.
Yates ought to have doubled his lead in the 13th minute when Elliot Embleton picked him out at the back post with a marvellous deep cross, but the striker could only head wide.
The Seasiders were made to pay for that miss when Gillingham levelled in the following minute, as the game continued at a frantic pace.
Jordan Graham was the man to get it, running across his marker to meet John Akinde’s pullback at the front post.
The Gillingham winger took a clever touch to nip the ball ahead of Ballard and set himself up before firing across Maxwell and into the back of the Blackpool net.
Steve Evans’ side only remained level for five minutes though, as Yates bagged his second of the game to make it 20 goals for the season - becoming the first Blackpool player to do so since Andy Morrell in 2007.
It was a lovely, cultured finish from the in-form striker too, flicking home at the near post from Luke Garbutt’s curling free-kick.
Neither side were covering themselves in glory defensively, as the Seasiders failed to deal with a Graham cross from the right which fell kindly for MacDonald, but his shot was a weak one and bobbled into Maxwell’s hands.
It was Pool’s turn to squander a promising opening on the half-hour mark when Yates almost turned provider, pulling the ball back into the path of Sullay Kaikai who couldn’t make a clean connection.
That’s a description that certainly wasn’t befitting of Kaikai’s effort a few moments later, as the Blackpool winger gave his side a 3-1 lead in emphatic style.
Kaikai, scoring for the fifth time this season, finished off a high-quality move by firing across Bonham and into the far corner.
Gillingham were left utterly shell-shocked and, despite offering a constant attacking threat, were unable to deal with Blackpool’s incisive one and two-touch play at the other end.
Critchley’s side knew the game wasn’t over by a stretch and had to survive two big Gillingham chances before the half-time interval.
Former Fleetwood Town man Kyle Dempsey beat the offside trap before passing the ball beyond Maxwell, but thankfully Ollie Turton was quick to mop up and clear his lines.
Maxwell was then called into action seconds later to tip Stuart O’Keefe’s low effort around the post after Pool had given the ball away just outside their own box.
The half ended with Pool surviving another scare, as Oliver sliced wide from just inside the box.
The home side played into Gillingham’s hands at the start of the second-half, conceding some needless free-kicks and long throws.
But they stood firm and soon calmed things down, looking to build up their attacks from deep and moving the ball from one end of the pitch to the other in seconds with incisive passes.
We saw more proof of that on the hour mark when Elliot Embleton gave the Seasiders more breathing space with their fourth of the game.
The Sunderland loanee, scoring for the first time in tangerine, had the simple task of tapping home from Kaikai’s clever pullback.
Pool were well in control from this point onwards as they saw out the remainder of the game with little discomfort.
They had to put up with a frustrating delay 15 minutes from time though when one of the linesmen was forced to hobble off with an injury.
Simms had two good chances to get in on the act as the clock ticked towards the 90-minute mark, the striker having a show deflect just over before glancing a header just wide from Garbutt’s corner.
The linesman’s injury meant 10 minutes of time were added on after the 90 were up, but the game was already over by that point and the Seasiders saw out the stoppage-time in comfortable fashion to record another pivotal victory.
Blackpool: Maxwell, Turton, Ballard, Thorniley, Garbutt, Dougall, Ward, Embleton (Gabriel), Kaikai (Mitchell), Simms, Yates (Robson)
Subs not used: Moore, Husband, Gretarsson, Ekpiteta
Gillingham: Bonham, Jackson, Tucker, Ogilvie, O’Connor, Graham, Dempsey, O’Keefe, MacDonald (Lee), Oliver, Akinde (Samuel)
Subs not used: Bastien, McKensie, Johnson, Woods, Willock
Referee: Darren Drysdale
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