Blackpool failed to go for the kill against their wounded prey - Matt Scrafton's verdict on draw against 10-man Sunderland
Cast your mind back to a few days ago, if you dare, when thousands of council workers and volunteers bizarrely ferreted around a Sunderland sports hall in an attempt to win the ‘race’ to be the first to announce its general election results.
The idea, as the story goes, to begin this odd trend dates back to the 1990s, when the former head of elections at Sunderland city council suggested the idea of declaring the city’s result on the same day as the vote in 1992 – the year the Black Cats reached the final of the FA Cup.
From that point onwards to 2015, Sunderland were unopposed in triumphing in this particular competition – before being pipped to the post by North East rivals Newcastle in 2017. It was those pesky Georgies again who beat them this year.
It can surely be no coincidence, then, that Sunderland’s slide down the leagues goes hand-in-hand with their failure to be the first constituency to announce its results.
Perhaps if Sunderland’s players showed the urgency of those rushing the ballots to the count, they might be doing better than languishing in 12th place in the League One table.
Phil Parkinson’s side were there to be beaten at the Stadium of Light on Saturday. The Black Cats were distinctly average with 11 players on the field, never mind 10, and it was plain to see why the Wearside club have lost eight of their last 13 games since Parkinson’s arrival in mid-October.
But when George Dobson was given his marching orders with 15 minutes to go – with the match level – Pool couldn’t have been given a bigger opportunity to win at the Stadium of Light for the first time since DJ Campbell’s double in the Premier League season.
Alas the Seasiders couldn’t capitalise on the home side’s woes and, while a point would have been deemed acceptable before the first whistle, those of a tangerine persuasion will have trooped away from the stadium with that familiar feeling of ‘what if?’
But as Matty Virtue said himself post-match, the signs are certainly good for Blackpool when they’re so frustrated at only drawing against a side as big as Sunderland.
While Parkinson’s men have struggled of late, they’ve still only been beaten at home once in the league this season. They’re fortunate that record remains intact.
It was Virtue who gifted the Seasiders the dream start with a sublime bit of finishing.
The midfielder calmly collected an attempted clearance on the edge of the Sunderland box before arrowing an effort into the far corner of Jon McLaughlin’s net.
An early goal was exactly what the doctor ordered, as Pool boss Simon Grayson – returning to Wearside for the first time since his axing in 2017 – will know only too well how quick the Sunderland crowd are to turn on their own men when things aren’t going well.
While the atmosphere was incredibly timid and subdued, apart from those hardy souls tucked up in the away end in the top tier, to their fans’ credit they stuck with their players.
Pool were in control of proceedings at this point, with skipper Jay Spearing superbly dictating play from the middle of the park.
Armand Gnanduillet perhaps ought to have done better with a chance he created off his own back on 19 minutes, being denied by McLaughlin after battling his way towards goal.
Other than set pieces, Sunderland offered no threat whatsoever. They huffed and they puffed but Pool appeared to be dealing with them fairly comfortably.
According to observers, this was a much-improved display from the beleaguered Black Cats. If this was an improvement, I daren’t imagine how poor they’ve previously been.
But out of nowhere, Parkinson’s side hauled themselves level eight minutes before the break.
What route did the goal come from? You guessed it, a set piece. James Husband conceded a cheap corner and from the following delivery Charlie Wyke got ahead of the defender to steer home.
It was a frustrating setback for the Seasiders, who had been guilty of not going for the kill when their wounded and bruised prey was laid down bare in front of them, almost waiting for the inevitable to happen.
It could have been oh, so different had Pool restored their lead just three minutes later, but they were stopped from doing so in bizarre circumstances.
Husband crept in at the back post to side-foot a first-time effort towards goal that seemed destined to hit the back of the net after McLaughlin had flapped at a deep cross.
But instead of rolling over the line as everyone expected, the ball struck teammate Gnanduillet on the goalline before bouncing harmlessly wide.
The second half was a bit of a non-event, other than the red card that saw Dobson sent off for two yellow cards – the second of which came after a late challenge on Gnanduillet.
The Sunderland fans can really have no arguments with the decision, but that didn’t stop them.
In fact, it seemed to wake up the otherwise sleepy home faithful, who were perhaps still lagging from their efforts volunteering at the election count on Thursday night and Friday morning.
With a quarter-of-an-hour still left on the clock, everything was set up for an exciting Grand Finale where Pool would snatch that all-important winner to propel them up to third, level on points with Ipswich Town in second.
But it didn’t come. Sunderland, to their credit, slowed the game down and frustrated the Seasiders. But Pool will be disappointed with their lack of quality and decisiveness in the final third.
While this was certainly an opportunity missed, there are still plenty of encouraging signs.
For Blackpool have now drawn away at Sboth underland and Ipswich and have beaten Peterborough United and Fleetwood Town on home turf in recent weeks.
Keep that form going until the transfer window opens at the start of January and who knows what beckons in 2020...