Blackpool v Bristol Rovers AS IT HAPPENED: Seasiders aim to finish season with a win to take into League One play-off campaign

Blackpool take on already relegated Bristol Rovers in the final game of the regular season with one eye already on their upcoming play-off campaign.

Sunday, 9th May 2021, 10:00 am
Updated Sunday, 9th May 2021, 1:57 pm
There's little riding on today's game other than final league position
There's little riding on today's game other than final league position

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LIVE: Blackpool v Bristol Rovers

Last updated: Sunday, 09 May, 2021, 12:02

  • FT: Blackpool 1-0 Bristol Rovers
  • Seasiders take on Joey Barton’s already-relegated side in final game of the campaign (noon kick-off)
  • Pool already guaranteed of a play-off spot
  • Neil Critchley likely to rest players and make changes to his side

And welcome to today’s live blog, where The Gazette will bring you all the build-up, team news and action from Blackpool’s final game of the regular campaign against Bristol Rovers, which kicks off at the earlier time of noon.

Follow the blog for regular updates throughout the day.

Without wanting to play down today’s game, there’s little at stake for the Seasiders this afternoon other than confirming their final position in the league table, which will determine their opponents in the play-off semi-finals.

Neil Critchley’s men booked their spot in the play-offs with a game to spare on Tuesday night with a 2-0 win against Doncaster Rovers.

It leaves them in third place in the table, ahead of Sunderland and Lincoln City who have also guaranteed a top six finish. That leaves Portsmouth, Oxford United and Charlton Athletic battling it out for the final play-off spot.

While Pool will make changes, they will also be keen to secure a fourth straight win to fill them with confidence heading into their play-off campaign.

Today’s opponents Bristol Rovers, meanwhile, sit bottom of the League One table and have already been relegated to the fourth tier.

Managed by former Fleetwood Town boss Joey Barton, the Gas have lost their last four games on the spin.

Sullay Kaikai felt his hamstring during Blackpool's win at Sunderland

While Neil Critchley is expected to make changes, Blackpool’s squad will remain largely the same as it was for Tuesday night’s win against Doncaster Rovers.

Critchley will be without a number of players once again, with eight players missing their midweek victory which guaranteed their spot in the play-offs.

Daniel Gretarsson (shoulder), Ethan Robson (groin), Matty Virtue (ACL), Grant Ward (calf), CJ Hamilton (metatarsal) and Gary Madine (groin) all remain sidelined.

Virtue and Hamilton are definitely out for the remainder of the campaign, while Bez Lubala is still unavailable due to a ‘club matter’.

Critchley has hinted that the likes of Dan Ballard, Kenny Dougall and Jerry Yates, players who have been playing regularly for the past few months, are likely to be given a rest. That raises the prospect of Marvin Ekpiteta, Kevin Stewart, Keshi Anderson and Demetri Mitchell all getting some vital minutes under their belts.

Neil Critchley’s pre-match comments

There's nothing at stake for Neil Critchley's side today other than their final league position

“We obviously want to put a strong team out to win the game, but we also have in mind certain players who have been playing Saturday-Tuesday for a considerable amount of time.

“How we manage the group prior in terms of the team we pick and during the game will be important.

“But it’s also about having the balance in making sure that we’ve got a strong team on the pitch to win the game.

“Will there be some changes? Yes there will. But how many and who, we’ve not quite made those decisions yet.

“Bristol Rovers changed managers a few times and Joey has gone in there to make a difference to the club and it’s not going the way they would have wanted at the moment.

“But you’ve only got to look at the job Joey and his staff did at Fleetwood because they were very good when they were given time.

“I know they’ll be keen to put all the wrongs right next season and I’m sure he will, because he’s already proven in this division what he’s capable of doing.

“It will be good to see Joey and his staff on Sunday because whenever we played Fleetwood, I always enjoyed speaking to them.

“I’m sure next season, with Joey’s leadership, will be a really strong force in League Two.”

Joey Barton’s pre-match comments

Bristol Rovers boss Joey Barton

“For me, it’s a case of just getting this season gone,

“It’s tough at the moment because you’ve got nothing to play for and thoughts naturally drift towards next season and moving the group out, clearing the place out and starting to build a proper football team out of the ashes of this team.

“The difficult is, we’ve had two dead rubbers to fulfil since the Pompey game, but to keep the integrity of the competition you’ve obviously got to go out and pick the best team you can to try to get a result and a performance.

“All the while, you’re assessing your options in terms of which players to take into the next campaign.

“I think we’re about 90 per cent there in terms of which players we’ll keep and which players we’ll move on.

“We’ve had 45 games to assess the current personnel and I can’t see - unless it’s some of the younger players - many people changing my mind because, in terms of the senior players, we’re well aware of what they can do and what they can offer.

“The difficulty is, we have to get some of them into the physical shape we think we can get them into by doing a proper pre-season - then I think we’ll start to find out what we’ve got and what the players are capable of.

“The lads are down in terms of their mentality and from a physical standpoint we’ve got bodies going down left, right and centre because of the negligence of their pre-season, that’s the only way I can describe it.

“If you’re not fit for the start of the season, then after 45 games in a condensed, Covid ravaged year, then you’re not going to be fit for the end of it.

“That’s why in the last two weeks we’ve said ‘lads, we’ll see you Thursday’ or ‘lads, we’ll see you Friday’ to save their energy tanks.”

As it stands, Blackpool sit in third, ahead of Sunderland and Lincoln City who are also guaranteed of a play-off finish.

Portsmouth currently sit in the final play-off spot, but they have Oxford United and Charlton Athletic both breathing down their necks.

The League One play-offs begin on May 18 and May 19, when limited crowds will be allowed back into the grounds.

Under the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, 10,000 fans will be allowed to attend sporting events from May 17 onwards, or alternatively 25 per cent of your capacity - whichever is lower.

In Blackpool’s case, a quarter of Bloomfield Road’s capacity is 4,334.

It’s yet to be confirmed if the team that finishes in third will be included in semi-final A or semi-final B, but it’s understood the sides that finish in third and fourth will be away first before finishing the second leg at home. Official confirmation is expected from the EFL after Sunday’s games.

Play-off dates

League One A first leg - Tuesday, May 18 (6pm kick-off)

League One B first leg - Wednesday, May 19 (6pm kick-off)

League One A second leg - Friday, May 21 (7.45pm kick-off)

League One B second leg - Saturday, May 22 (3pm kick-off)

League One play-off final - Sunday, May 30 (3pm kick-off)

Last day celebration

Plenty of Pool fans are already milling around outside the main reception at Bloomfield Road. I’m reliably informed the first fans have been here since 9am! That’s some dedication.

Expect to see more and more supporters head down to the ground come lunchtime.

A potential surprise

There will be a surprise name on the Blackpool team sheet come 11am, when the team sheets are released.

What a major boost this will be ahead of the play-off campaign.

Here’s how Bristol Rovers line up

The breaking news from the team news an hour before kick-off is the presence of a certain Gary Madine on the team sheet.

The striker, who has been out with a niggling groin injury since January, is named among the substitutes.

It comes as a major boost to the Seasiders ahead of their play-off campaign, as it was feared the 30-year-old - who is out of contract at the end of the season - might never kick a ball for the club again.

With Pool booking their place in the play-offs in midweek with a game to spare, Critchley opts to ring the changes - making six in total.

Brad Holmes is named up front to make his first professional start, while Stuart Moore is also handed his debut in goal.

Marvin Ekpiteta, Kevin Stewart, Keshi Anderson and Demetri Mitchell also come into the side.

Chris Maxwell, Dan Ballard, Ollie Turton, Luke Garbutt, Ellis Simms and the club’s top goalscorer Jerry Yates are the six to make way.

Daniel Gretarsson, Matty Virtue, Ethan Robson, Grant Ward, Sullay Kaikai and CJ Hamilton all remain sidelined, while Bez Lubala remains unavailable due to a ‘club matter’.

Joey Barton’s Bristol Rovers, who also have nothing to play for after having their relegation confirmed a couple of weeks ago, hand a debut to 17-year-old goalkeeper Jed Ward.

What a moment for Brad Holmes

The teams are out

And kick-off is just moments away.

Can the Seasiders end the regular season with a fourth straight victory to head into the play-offs with momentum on their side? We’ll soon find out.

Up the mighty Pool!

After both sets of players take the knee, Bristol Rovers’ Luke McCormick gets the game started.

Come on you Pool, let’s finish the season with another win to take into the play-offs!

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