Blackpool get it right both on and off the pitch: Matt Scrafton's verdict on the Seasiders' richly deserved win against Swindon in front of 1,000 fans

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With so much at stake on and off the pitch for the Seasiders, in hindsight, Saturday’s game against Swindon Town couldn’t have gone much better.
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Neil Critchley delighted to get first win under his belt as Blackpool claim hard...

On the pitch Neil Critchley claimed his first competitive win as head coach, as his Blackpool side got their league campaign off and running with a richly deserved win, scoring their first goals of the season in the process and keeping a clean sheet at the other end.

Off the pitch, meanwhile, the club’s pilot event went as smoothly as can be hoped, with 1,000 lucky fans returning to Bloomfield Road for the first time since March to create an excellent atmosphere none of us could have surely predicted.

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The club deserves huge credit for arranging this test event at such late notice, having only received correspondence from the EFL – in where they invited clubs to apply to host a limited number of fans – on Tuesday, just four days before the game took place.

In truth, the Seasiders had been planning for such a scenario weeks ago, proof if we ever needed it that this is very much a different Blackpool to the one we’d previously become accustomed to.

Just hearing supporters clap the players onto the pitch for the pre-match warm-up, something we previously took for granted, managed to make the hairs stand on end. Witnessing the roar of the goal celebration, something that can’t be duplicated however hard TV stations try, was something else.

Whether this proves to be a false dawn or just the first step in supporters returning to grounds on a wider scale, who knows – the picture changes from day-to-day.

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Blackpool's socially-distanced supporters were treated to a richly deserved three pointsBlackpool's socially-distanced supporters were treated to a richly deserved three points
Blackpool's socially-distanced supporters were treated to a richly deserved three points

But this was a hugely encouraging event which, fingers crossed, given its success should lead to further tests in the coming days and weeks with more fans in attendance.

Those supporters who did make their long-awaited return to Bloomfield Road will no doubt have been delighted with what they witnessed. There’s one thing watching your side on a live stream, but nothing compares to watching the blood and thunder in person.

For the second week running, however, the Seasiders got off to a slow start. Swindon, buoyed by last season’s League Two title win and their opening day 3-1 win against Rochdale, made all the early running.

Richie Wellens’ men settled quickly, looking calm, composed and, more importantly, threatening with the ball at their feet.

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But, unlike Plymouth Argyle last week, they were unable to take advantage of their promising start. Had Jonny Smith’s 13th-minute shot curled inside the far post, rather than inches wide of it, this could have been a completely different story.

But, it has to be said, other than a late Hallam Hope effort that crashed onto the post, Swindon created very little and Blackpool maintained the upper hand throughout, just as they did at Home Park on the opening day.

Only on this occasion, Critchley’s side showed a clinical touch in front of goal. Or, more specifically, CJ Hamilton did.

The winger, Blackpool’s standout performer of the summer, netted a stunning double in clinical fashion to decide this entertaining encounter.

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His first came at a crucial time, just four minutes before the half-time interval. Played into space down the flank, the 25-year-old shifted the ball onto his right foot before beating the goalkeeper at his near post with a powerful drilled effort.

The goal saw Bloomfield Road erupt as the returning Seasiders celebrated Blackpool’s first competitive goal in almost six hours of action under Critchley, a record that stretches back to the last time supporters were inside the stadium – the 2-1 defeat to Tranmere Rovers in March.

Critchley’s side ought to have added a second in first-half stoppage time, but Michael Nottingham could only head over, with the help of his shoulder, after being left unmarked from Hamilton’s inswinging cross.

Thankfully the Seasiders only had to wait two minutes of the second half to find that all-important second.

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Hamilton chased down what looked to be a lost cause, keeping the ball alive by the byline before cutting inside Rob Hunt and beating Kovar at his near post once again with a bullet of an effort, only this time on his left foot.

One couldn’t help but feel a tinge of sympathy for Hunt, who was given a torrid time all afternoon by the rapid winger.

This allowed Blackpool to sit back a little bit and gift Swindon possession of the ball, but only in areas of the pitch where they knew they wouldn’t cause any damage.

Having been kept at arm’s length, the Robins began to lose their discipline and shape in the final 20 minutes which sparked another sustained spell of pressure from the Seasiders, who in truth ought to have added another goal or two minimum.

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The home side somehow managed to squander a four-on-one scenario before Ethan Robson, in magnificent form all afternoon in the middle of the park, clattered the underside of the crossbar with a ferocious first-time volley.

Not that it mattered a great deal, as this result was never really in doubt once Hamilton added his and Blackpool’s second at the start of the second half.

Hamilton will rightfully earn all the plaudits but there were plenty of other impressive performers too, with Robson, Demetri Mitchell and Keshi Anderson all catching the eye.

This was a very different encounter to the one we witnessed against Plymouth last week. On this occasion, Pool, who dominated possession in their season opener in Devon, allowed Swindon to have more of the ball as they knew they would cause them problems pressing them high up the pitch, sometimes going as far as the goalkeeper in his own six-yard box.

Having survived some early pressure, it’s a tactic that proved highly successful, rightfully receiving the support and backing of those inside the ground.

Let’s just hope that's not a one-off.