Blackpool FC review of 2021 Part 1: Play-off kings crowned yet again

2021 is another year that will go down in Blackpool’s history books.

By Matt Scrafton
Monday, 3rd January 2022, 12:30 pm

Read More

Read More
Player ratings as Blackpool kick off the New Year with crucial Hull City win

But that barely covers the half of it as the Seasiders battled a global pandemic. And not only did they stay afloat under Simon Sadler’s ownership, they actually thrived in these most unusual of times.

Here’s our review of an action-filled 12 months for the Seasiders…

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Blackpool celebrate play-off glory for the sixth time and a return to the Championship

JANUARY

The year began with a defeat as the Seasiders somehow conspired to lose 2-1 away at Bristol Rovers despite a dominant display.

They responded well with a 1-1 draw against league leaders Hull City before producing a five-star display to batter Wigan Athletic. Ellis Simms, who had joined on loan from Everton, scored twice on debut.

Neil Critchley’s side were ravaged by positive Covid cases and injuries but played on.

Elliot Embleton arrived on loan from Sunderland during the January window, while Kevin Stewart joined on a free transfer. Calum Macdonald, MJ Williams, Jamie Devitt and Ryan Hardie all moved on, while Teddy Howe, Nathan Shaw, Oliver Sarkic and Adi Yussuf went out on loan.

FEBRUARY

While the transfer window closed on the first day of the month, that didn’t stop the Seasiders bolstering their ranks with the signing of free agent Stuart Moore to provide back-up for Chris Maxwell in goal.

Blackpool secured a fairly routine 2-0 home win over struggling Northampton Town before losing to Ipswich Town following a really lacklustre display at Portman Road.

Thankfully that proved to be a major turning point in Pool’s season as they then embarked on a 16-game unbeaten run.

Neil Critchley’s side finished February with three straight wins against Rochdale, Portsmouth and Charlton Athletic.

MARCH

While Blackpool enjoyed another unbeaten month, their progress stalled with some frustrating draws against Crewe Alexandra, AFC Wimbledon, Fleetwood Town, Burton Albion and Plymouth Argyle.

Pool were still heading in the right direction, though, thanks to their invaluable wins against MK Dons, Oxford United and Peterborough United, three sides well in the hunt for promotion.

The win against Oxford came at a cost, though, with Matty Virtue suffering an ACL injury that keeps him out until this day. The Seasiders ended the month inside the play-offs with just 11 games to play.

APRIL

Blackpool put themselves in pole position for the play-offs with back-to-back wins against Swindon Town and Gillingham over Easter.

Jerry Yates bagged a brace in the latter game at Bloomfield Road to become the first Blackpool player to score 20 goals in a season since Andy Morrell in 2007.

Consecutive draws against Lincoln City and Accrington Stanley slowed Blackpool’s progress before a crucial win against promotion rivals Sunderland.

The unbeaten run finally came to an end with a disappointing 1-0 defeat away at Rochdale, which was followed by another loss at home to lowly Shrewsbury Town.

This set up another pivotal encounter against Sunderland, this time away at the Stadium of Light, which Neil Critchley’s side won 1-0 again thanks to Sullay Kaikai’s wonder-strike.

The result gave Pool a three-point buffer in the play-off zone with a game in hand still to play.

MAY

The Seasiders won convincingly against Northampton Town to all but confirm a play-off finish, a result which also condemned the Cobblers to relegation.

A top-six place was mathematically assured in the penultimate game of the regular season, a 2-0 win against Doncaster Rovers.

This allowed Neil Critchley the luxury to rest some players for the final game, which they still won 1-0 against Bristol Rovers.

Blackpool finished third, which set up a two-legged semi-final with Oxford United, who were dispatched 3-0 in clinical style at the Kassam in the first leg thanks to Ellis Simms’ heroics.

A thrilling 3-3 draw in the home leg, which saw the return of a limited number of Pool fans, set up yet another play-off final for the Seasiders.

Despite getting off to a nightmare start in the Wembley showpiece following Ollie Turton’s own goal inside the first minute, Blackpool deservedly battled back to beat Lincoln City 2-1 thanks to Kenny Dougall’s double.

The win, Blackpool’s sixth play-off success, was witnessed by 4,000 Seasiders due to an easing of Covid restrictions.

JUNE

Barely two days after Blackpool’s promotion party had finished, Neil Critchley was put in the unenviable position of having to confirm the club’s retained list ahead of the return to the Championship after a six-year absence.

Sullay Kaikai was the stand-out name among those to be released, while Ollie Turton announced he had opted to accept a move to Huddersfield Town. Liam Feeney and Ben Garrity also moved on.

Speaking to Sky Sports after the final at Wembley, chief executive Ben Mansford said the club had already prepared two separate lists of targets depending on which division the Seasiders were in.

Reece James became the club’s first signing of the summer and was quickly followed by Josh Bowler, Sonny Carey, Oliver Casey, Callum Connolly, Dan Grimshaw and Shayne Lavery. Kevin Stewart, meanwhile, put pen to paper on a new contract.

PART TWO ONLINE TUESDAY, JANUARY 4

Thanks for reading. If you value what we do and are able to support us, a digital subscription is just £1 for your first month. Try us today by clicking here